Four Common Medication Problems in Aging

4 Common Medication Problems in Aging

If you’re helping an older person with health and healthcare, chances are that person is taking at least a few prescription medications.

Do you ever wonder if he or she is on the right medications? Do you worry about side effects and interactions?

These are sensible concerns. Medications help maintain health and wellbeing, but studies have repeatedly shown that older adults are at higher risk of suffering from medication-related problems.

Four Common Medication-Related Problems in Aging Adults

The most commonly reported problems include:

  1. Side effects affecting thinking and balance. Quite a few commonly used drugs are known to make thinking and balance worse in aging adults. These include:
  • Drugs in a class known as “anticholinergics,” which includes drugs for overactive bladder, itching/allergy, vertigo, nausea, and certain drugs for nerve pain or depression. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a commonly used anticholinergic that’s often included in over-the-counter sleep aids and PM-version painkillers.
  • Sedatives and tranquilizers, which are often prescribed for sleep or for anxiety. Examples include zolpidem (Ambien) and lorazepam (Ativan).
  • Talk to your doctor about the use and/or dosage of these medications, as they may increase the risk of falls or provoke confusion. 
  1. Drug interactions. Some drugs tend to interact with others.
  • To reduce the risk of serious problems, maintain and monitor a complete list of all medications and dosages. Don’t forget to include any over-the-counter drugs or supplements when you check for interactions.
  • Check for interactions when a new drug is prescribed. A visit with the pharmacist can be helpful.
  • If you identify a potentially problematic interaction, let the doctor know as soon as possible. However, don’t stop the medication on your own, as that can be dangerous.
  1. Side effects due to the potency of drugs on an older person. Examples of this include:
  • Blood pressure medications can result in lightheadedness, or even falls, when an older person stands.
  • Blood sugar that is pushed quite low by diabetes drugs can result in falls and may be linked to faster cognitive decline. 
  1. Scheduling and taking medications.
  • Many older adults end up with several pills to take at several different times per day. Sometimes, this can be confusing or difficult.
  • Some older adults are unable to take all their medications properly. Missed medications can cause serious effects on an older person’s health.
  • For drugs taken several times a day, there may be a once-a-day option. Ask the doctor for help simplifying the daily medication plan, to determine whether a drug can be stopped, or whether a non-drug treatment can be tried instead.
  • Pharmacists can often recommend ways to safely adjust when and how medications are taken.

Tips for Helping a Loved One with Medications

  • Maintain a comprehensive list of all medications being taken. Include prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and herbal supplements. For every drug being taken, make sure you and your loved one understand:
  • The purpose of taking the drug.
  • Whether there are alternatives to taking the drug.
  • If a lower dosage is possible.
  • Always keep doctors well-informed about your loved one’s medications and medication use.
  • Bring an up-to-date list every time you see the doctor. Most seniors see multiple doctors, and hospital stays can create additional changes to the medication list. Don’t forget to include supplements and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Be sure to let the doctor know if your loved one hasn’t filled a prescription due to cost, or isn’t taking a medication for any reason.

By implementing some of the steps above, you can help make sure that an older person gets the most benefit from medications, while minimizing the risks and burdens.

Home care or hospice care providers can ease the burden of family caregivers by offering in-home care services to those with chronic or life-changing health care issues.

EveryStep provides care and support to patients, family members and their caregivers through chronic or serious illness, recovery or rehabilitation. Our experienced and compassionate staff can assist family caregivers in understanding the importance of nutrition, exercise, social ties, mental and spiritual health, and how all these things can contribute to wellbeing for individuals of all ages.