Learning to Manage Multiple Medications

The average American older than 65 takes more medicines than any age group. A study cited by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) concludes that 90 percent of people over the age of 65 take more than one medication daily, and nearly half of those take five or more drugs daily. Managing these medications properly is essential for good health.

Age-related changes in the digestive tract, the circulatory system and body composition affect the way medications are absorbed and metabolized. Because of this, older people have a greater risk of drug and food interactions.

Taking care

The following guidelines can help you manage your medications safely:

  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all the medications, supplements and remedies you take. Be sure to include prescription and nonprescription drugs, vitamins and herbal remedies, advises the National Institute on Aging.

  • Ask your doctor to review your medications. To help with the review, create a list that includes the name of each medicine, the doctor who prescribed it, the amount you take and the number of times you take it each day.

  • Discuss any changes in diet with your doctor. Eating a very low-fat diet or one that's high in calcium or other minerals and vitamins can alter the effectiveness of some medications.

  • Be sure you know how to take each of your medications properly. This includes knowing what each medication is for and how much to take; whether to take it with food or water or avoiding certain foods or beverages; how to schedule it with your other medications; what to do if you forget a dose; and what foods, drinks and activities to avoid.

  • Know which side effects to expect and what to do about them. Many medications have known side effects that may occur, depending on your health and reaction to the drug's ingredients. Knowing which ones are normal and which require medical attention is important.

  • Get prescriptions filled far enough in advance to avoid running out. Put a reminder to refill on your calendar, don't wait until your bottle is empty. This is especially important if you take maintenance medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a heart condition, or any pain condition.

  • Follow any warnings regarding food or alcohol interactions with your medicines.

  • Purchase all your prescription medications at one pharmacy. Drug interactions are more likely to be caught if one pharmacist fills all your prescriptions.

  • Ask your pharmacist to print medication labels in large print if you have trouble reading standard type.

  • Put your medications in a pill box each week as a way to remember to take them rather than relying on looking at each bottle's label each time. If you need help, don't hesitate to ask a family member, your pharmacist, or your doctor's office if they can help you set up your pill box.  

  • Don't take someone else's prescription medication, even if you have the same condition or similar symptoms.

  • Always discard or dispose of medications you no longer need or your doctor has instructed you to stop. Although medications are expensive, accidentally taking unneeded medications can be more costly to your health in the long run.