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My 75-year-old mother is currently taking 16 different prescription and OTC medications and I'm worried she's taking way too many drugs. Can you suggest any resources that can help us?
Unfortunately, millions of older Americans are taking way too many medications today, which raises their risk of dangerous side effects and drug interactions.
According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, people aged 65 to 69 take an average of 15 prescriptions a year, and those aged 80 to 84 take 18 prescriptions a year. That is in addition to the myriad of over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals they may take, any of which – alone or in combination – could cause more problems than they cure.
Even when older patients are taking only necessary and effective drugs, the dosages need a second look. As patients age, they tend to metabolize drugs more slowly, meaning the dose that was perfect five years ago may now be too high, perhaps causing dizziness and falls. Doses may need to be continually adjusted with age.
Get a Drug Review
If you have concerns or questions about the medications your mother is taking, gather up all her pill bottles, including her prescription and over-the-counter drugs as well as vitamins and supplements, put them in a bag, and take them to her primary physician or pharmacist for a comprehensive drug review.
Medicare provides free drug reviews with a doctor during annual "wellness visits," and many Medicare Part D prescription drug beneficiaries can also get free reviews from pharmacists.
At the review, go through each medication and find out if there are any duplicate medications or potentially dangerous combinations. You should also ask if there are any drugs she could stop taking or reduce the dosage. Then, make a medication master list with dosages and keep it updated so it can be easily shared whenever your mom sees a doctor. To help with this, you may find some helpful medication forms or smartphone applications through your favorite search engine.
If possible, your mom should also use a single pharmacy to fill all her prescriptions. The software that pharmacies use to manage patient prescriptions is designed to cross reference all medications a patient is taking to ensure that there are no drug interactions that could cause harm.
Also, the next time your mom's doctor prescribes a new medication, she should ask about nondrug treatment options that might be safer. If the drug is indeed necessary, she needs to find out how long she is supposed to take it and any potential side effects it can cause.
Another good resource that can help keep your mom safe is the American Geriatrics Society, which has identified 10 different types of medications that people 65 and older should almost always avoid because of the risk of serious side effects. They include the anti-anxiety drugs diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), and sleep drugs such as zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta). To see the complete list, visit HealthInAging.org and search "10 medications older adults should avoid."
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.