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Helping Seniors Understand Their Medications

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Monday, May 23, 2011

As part of Older Americans Month, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) has provided a list of topics that senior citizens and their families should regularly discuss with pharmacists to gain better knowledge of the medications they are taking. As the most accessible health care provider, pharmacists are equipped to discuss many of the issues that medications may present for older patients.

Pharmacists can play a pivotal role in helping these patients sort out any confusion they may have about the medications they are taking, answering questions, and assisting in better decision making. This relationship, according to APhA, can provide seniors with more control over their medications and can result in fewer side effects and interactions, which in turn can lead to improvements in quality of life.

Some of the topics seniors and their caretakers and family members should discuss with pharmacists to help improve their understanding of medications are as follows:
  • Understanding medications—how to correctly take them, what they do, and why they are being taken.
  • Understanding brand vs. generic prescription medications, as well as over-the-counter (OTC) and herbal supplements and how they may interact with one another.
  • Reading a label correctly, including warnings and dosing information.
  • Determining whether an OTC medication or herbal supplement is the right choice, as side effects and interactions may increase with age.
  • Overcoming loss of appetite, dry mouth, insomnia, or other dangerous age-related medication side effects.
  • Taking medication at the appropriate time throughout the day and that medication’s known side-effects.
  • Addressing problems with swallowing and pill size.
  • Saving money at the pharmacy, including opportunities through patient assistance programs.
  • Reviewing total medication history, including all prescription and OTC medications, as well as herbal supplements.
  • Providing many of the vaccinations that older patients may need and may not be aware of.
  • Various screenings including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and osteoporosis.
  • Motivational counseling for a healthy lifestyle, including smoking cessation and managing disease.
APhA encourages all patients, especially older patients, to maintain regular visits with all of their health care providers, fill all their prescriptions with one pharmacy whenever possible, get to know their pharmacist on a first name basis, carry an up-date medication and vaccination list, and share all medical information with each of their care providers.
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