Why Seniors Should Exercise Caution When Self-Medicating

Herbal/Prescription Interaction Awareness Month is scheduled for July in 2023, and that makes now a good time to take stock of exactly which medications and dosages your senior loved one is currently using. Taking the wrong medication or the wrong dosage can have disastrous results, so this is an issue that needs to be addressed by families and caretakers. If your senior loved one manages their own prescriptions, you should at least check periodically to ensure that they’re taking all the right medications and dosages. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the dangers that attend self-medicating, and how to avoid these perils.

Not taking medications as prescribed

Medications are generally safe for your senior loved one, provided that they’re taken in the amounts prescribed by the family physician, and at the appropriate times each day. It’s never safe to take someone else’s prescription meds, nor should medications be discontinued because of some undesirable side effects which may have appeared. In cases like this, the doctor should be informed about the side effects, so that he/she can make adjustments to the prescription. By the same token, taking medications that are not prescribed for you could have unintended interactions with other meds you take, and that can cause all kinds of issues. Another common mistake made by self-medicating seniors is to stop taking the prescription when they start feeling better. Most drugs that treat chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, are only effective if taken regularly and in the prescribed dosages. If you don’t remember the correct dosage, the right time of day, or which meds you should be taking, make sure to discuss it with a caretaker or family member, so mistakes aren’t made.

Failure to maintain a medication list

Many seniors feel they don’t need to maintain a list of current medications, and that they can rely on their memory and their execution of a daily routine. It’s a simple matter to store your meds list in a note folder on your smartphone, so it can easily be called up and consulted. Having a prepared list of medications makes it much easier at the doctor’s office to remind him/her of the meds you’re currently taking. It also comes in handy when you have discussions with the doctor about any new meds you might need, meds that can be removed from your list, and meds that need to be changed to something less objectionable. If you should be incapacitated for a short time, as in an accident, it will be crucial for a caretaker to be able to access your meds list to provide emergency personnel with that information. Your meds list should include all prescription meds as well as over-the-counter meds, dosages, frequency, and the location of your pharmacy.

Interactions and side effects

Many medications have unwanted interactions with other meds, and your doctor will generally be aware of all these interactions. That will allow him/her to avoid prescribing potentially dangerous meds you take simultaneously. For this reason, all patients including seniors, should be aware of the possibility of undesirable side effects associated with any given medication, as well as some of the potential interactions with other meds. This kind of information is usually included on the label of prescription meds, or it will be contained in the accompanying literature provided with the prescription. If you should suddenly begin experiencing new side effects when taking a new prescription, you should immediately check with your doctor to see if the new med is causing the issue. Being aware of side effects and medication interactions can save a great deal of discomfort and possibly even some dangerous situations.

Proper storage and labeling of medications

All medications should be properly stored, out of the reach of children, in an environment that will not degrade their effectiveness. They should also have a clear expiration date that can be seen on the label, so you’ll know when this particular prescription should no longer be taken. When medications are stored in an unfriendly environment, they can quickly lose their effectiveness, and you might end up taking an endless supply of placebos. For example, some people like to store medications in the bathroom – but the alternating heat and humidity associated with showering and bathing can cause some meds to degrade quickly. On the other hand, medications cannot be stored in an area that children might gain access to because, with their natural curiosity, they might ingest dangerous medications. If you have medications that you don’t take every day, make sure to check the expiration date occasionally, so you end up taking useful medications. One good example of this is when you have a bottle of aspirin or pain medication in the storage area that has been there for ages and is only used on an as-needed basis. It’s common for meds like these to be months out of date, and therefore of limited usefulness. Make sure of all meds being stored, in terms of their currency and proper labeling, and this will avoid some serious potential problems with self-medication.

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