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April 15, 2014

Information for Seniors: How to Correctly Manage your Medications

(By Protégez-Vous in partnership with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal)

The majority of seniors use medication. Many of them even take several types of drugs every day. If this is your situation, you’ll want to read the following article, which explains how to best manage your medication more safely and effectively.

In Quebec, 61 percent of people over 65 years of age take prescription drugs, with most of them using 3 to 5 different types. Unfortunately, nearly one-quarter of seniors do not correctly follow the instructions provided by their doctor or pharmacist, even though doing so is critical.

How age influences drug effectiveness

Aging can influence the effectiveness and safety of your medications. For example, as you age, your liver – the organ that breaks down drugs – can become less efficient at metabolizing certain medications. The kidneys, whose job it is to eliminate broken-down medications from your system, may also be functioning at lower capacity in later years. In addition, as the human body ages, it begins to have slightly more fat than muscle, hindering the circulation of certain types of drugs throughout the body. This explains why it is so important to take the correct dose at the right time. For various other reasons, some drugs are not suitable for seniors, even while being perfectly fine for a middle-aged man or woman.

The right dose for every patient

Since everyone is different (weight, age, state of health, potential interactions with other drugs and vulnerability), prescriptions must be tailored to each patient. To obtain the desired results, you must take your medications correctly. That means respecting all instructions given to you. For example, if your doctor has prescribed blood pressure medication, you should try to take it at the same time every day. This helps maintain your blood pressure at an appropriate level at all times, reducing the risk of complications associated with hypertension, such as heart attacks and strokes.

If you take several drugs during the day, use a pill dispenser. This handy little item allows you to organize your pills around your meals and bedtime, so you never forget a dose. If you would like to learn more on this, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Unwanted effects of medications

While medications fulfil many important therapeutic goals (curing or preventing disease, easing pain or supporting health), they can also generate unwanted side effects. It goes without saying that the more medications you take, the higher your chances of experiencing side effects. When you start a new drug, pay special attention to how your body reacts.

List of possible reactions

  • Falls (due to loss of balance, lack of coordination, loss of motor control, etc.)
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of coordination
  • Malnutrition (due to problems with digestion, reduced food intake or poor absorption of nutrients)
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Memory loss
  • Incontinence
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Nausea

If you experience side effects, talk to your pharmacist and your doctor. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, they may decide to:

  • tell you to stop the medication;
  • reduce the dose or frequency;
  • temporarily add a medication to counter the adverse effect (e.g. a medication to relieve nausea and diarrhea);
  • gradually reduce the dose and frequency of the medication, until you stop it altogether;
  • replace the medication with a new one better suited to your state of health.

Up to 50 percent of problems related to prescription drugs can be avoided. Optimistically speaking, this objective could be reached within the next decade. In fact, a growing number of patients want to understand their health problems and the repercussions these have on their lives. They also want to know how to manage their health in order to improve their quality of life.

To reduce problems associated with prescription drugs, be sure to work in partnership with your health care team (pharmacist, nurses and doctor). To learn more about the safe, effective use of medications, consult the Take your medications seriously Website developed by the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux du Québec.

Good to know!
Consulting your pharmacist is the number one way to properly and safely manage your prescription medications, non-prescription medications and natural health products. Pharmacists are medication experts. They know the side effects and possible interactions with natural products and food.

Medication management tips

  • Keep an updated list of your medications with you (at home and abroad). Your pharmacist can provide you with this list. If you need medical attention, it will be a great help to the health professionals treating you.
  • Watch for reactions when you start a new medication or when the dose is changed. Take notes. Try to see if there is any connection.
  • Jot down your questions and ask your pharmacist or doctor.
  • Return expired medications to the pharmacy.
  • Never use medications prescribed to someone else. They may not be suitable for you.

To learn more:

Articles available in French only.

Guide pratique de l’aide aux aînés,” Protégez-Vous, August 2011. (In French only)
Des médicaments dangereux pour les aînés,” Protégez-Vous, July 2011. (In French only)
Tips on using medication properly”, MSSS

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