Managing Medications for Elderly Patients

With elderly patients being prescribed more drugs than ever before, caregivers face a huge challenge in managing medications and preventing negative outcomes.

Thanks to many recent breakthroughs in medicine, a number of diseases and ailments that were previously untreatable can now be maintained with oral medications. As a result, the elderly are now prescribed more drugs than ever before. Although it is ultimately to their benefit, having multiple medications to deal with can be confusing for both patients and caretakers, and negative outcomes can result from that confusion.

Harmful drug interactions are a common result of that confusion. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists estimates that over 34% of senior citizens are prescribed medications by more than one physician, and 72% use medications they were prescribed over 6 months ago. Additionally, many people have begun “pharmacy shopping” to save money. All of these facts aid to the confusion of medication dispensing.

Multiple prescriptions alone can be confusing; for example, many medications must be taken multiple times a day while others are only once a day. Add this to the usage of multiple pharmacies and expired medications, and the elderly patient’s health is put at risk—a risk that is even higher if multiple physicians are being used. When patients use several pharmacies, a pharmacist is less likely to spot potentially dangerous drug interactions. Using several pharmacies and physicians concurrently means that health professionals don’t know all of the medications a patient is taking and, therefore, cannot alert the patient to harmful drug interactions.

Overdosing and under-dosing are another common result of confusion in drug management. Mistakes in the administration of medications are responsible for 38% of all medication-related errors, which led to a minimum of about 7000 deaths per year, according to the ALARIS Center for Medication Safety and Clinical Improvement.

Helping caretakers manage their loved one’s medications and protect them from harmful drug interactions and improper dosages can be complicated. Below is a list of helpful tips.

Use A Medication Organizer. Choose a medication organizer that best meets your loved one’s needs; some have morning and night slots, others have single slots for each day. Medication organizers can help eliminate some of the possibility of human error such as overdosing, as they enable caretakers to clearly see whether the medication was administered on a particular day.

Make a List. Make a full list of all medications—including prescription, over the counter, and supplements—that the patient takes. Present the list to all of the patient’s physicians and pharmacists to prevent harmful drug interactions.

Ask Questions. Sometimes patients lack the mental capacities to express how their medications make them feel; because of this, caregivers must be the ones to monitor the effects of prescription drugs on their loved ones. Questions that should be posed to physicians and pharmacists include:

  • What the side effects are of the medications?
  • What side effects can the patient experience due to interaction among medications?
  • Are there certain foods or supplements that can interact with the patient’s prescribed medications?

Keep A Medicine Diary. It is important that caregivers do this, particularly when a patient begins a new medication. Take detailed notes of how the patient reacts to a new medication; this will help his or her physician decipher whether the reaction is a side effect of the medication or the ailment.

Double-check All Medications. Always double check, if not triple check, both the medication name and dosage instructions before putting medications into an organizer.

Amber Paley writes for, a Web site that aims to raise awareness of the growing epidemic of nursing home abuse; help educate the public about its root causes; help residents and their families prevent abuse; and help victims cope with the consequences of nursing home abuse. The site was founded by the National Association to Stop Nursing Home Abuse (NASNHA), an independent organization funded through member support and founded by industry and lay officials concerned about the prevalence of nursing home abuse in the United States.