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Medication safety for seniors

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As the number of medications we take goes up, so do the risks.

If you’re older than 65 and take multiple medications, you should be aware of potential interactions between your drugs. These interactions can cause unwanted side effects, reduce the effectiveness of your medicine, or even lead to hospitalization. Studies show that up to 30 percent of hospital admissions of elderly patients are linked to harmful effects of medications and other related problems.

Many people not only take more than one medication, but also may see more than one doctor. It is important to inform all your doctors—especially your primary care physician—about all the medications you take to avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions.

“As a patient, you need to be watchful about your care and your medications,” says Dr. Joseph Addiego, chief medical officer of Prescription Solutions, a pharmacy benefits management company. “If you are seeing multiple doctors, keep a list of all your medications and take it to each doctor’s appointment. If you have questions, always feel free to ask your doctor or pharmacist.”

Addiego recommends the following tips to ensure safe medication use:

1. Share information with your primary care physician and other health care providers about all the medications you are taking to avoid negative drug interactions and reduce the potential for side effects. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications.

2. Use only one pharmacy, one pharmacy chain or one pharmacy benefits manager for all your prescription medicines. This helps your pharmacist monitor which medications you take so he or she can let you know about drug interactions.

3. Read carefully the information that comes with your medication and save it for future reference.

4. Take all your medicines exactly as directed, and continue taking all your medicines until the doctor says to stop.

5. Call your doctor, pharmacist or pharmacy benefits manager if you are experiencing side effects from your medication before you stop taking it.

While medication interactions are a serious problem, there are programs that can help health care providers and patients avoid medication problems. For example, Prescription Solutions a program called the Drug Interaction Alert Program, which alerts the prescribing physician of the potential dangerous interaction between medications for a specific patient. Another program, called Geriatric Rx Monitor, alerts the physician about medications that are not safe for use in older patients.

Check with your pharmacy or pharmacy benefits manager about programs that can help protect you from dangerous medication interactions, and be sure to talk to your doctor about all your medications at your next visit.

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