As people age, most of them start to develop health problems.

Those health problems accumulate and many of those conditions are treated with medications. The majority of elderly people take more than five different drugs. They take pills for high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, gout, urinary incontinence, arthritis and a multitude of other diseases and conditions. And then there are eye drops and nasal sprays and sublingual lozenges and skin patches and subcutaneous injections. If you are over 60 years old, you probably have several conditions that are treated by medicines, often prescribed by several different physicians.

Sometimes when you look at all the pill bottles lined up in your medicine cabinet, you just want to throw them all out. But you don’t, because you understand the importance of taking medications for seniors. You also understand that the drugs help regulate the problems that your aging body has developed and that not to take them can be detrimental. You want to comply with your doctor’s treatment plan, but sometimes you make mistakes.

In this article, you will learn about medication errors in seniors and how to avoid them.


What are the most common medication errors that older people make?


1. Forgetting to take your medications  

This is one of the commonest mistakes. Even elderly people who do not have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease often have problems with short term memory. You walk into a room and then can’t remember why. If you only have to take pills once a day, you are not as likely to forget a dose. But if it’s more often, you are at risk of missing doses.

Here are some helpful tips to help you remember to take your medications: Try to take your medicines at scheduled times every day. Set an alarm, preferably on your watch or cell phone to remind you. Picking a time around mealtime often makes it easier to remember.


2. Overdosing

This is the commonest mistake and it can be fatal. That same faulty short term memory may make you wonder if you actually took your morning pills. You may think you ought to make sure and take them now. Remember your doctor determined the proper amount. More is not better.

Here are some helpful tips to prevent an overdose: Get a pill organizer. They come with spaces for pills up to four times a day for one week. Write the day you are supposed to organize your pills on the calendar. Always check your organizer before you take the next dose to make sure that you are on time.


3. Mistaking one medication for another

You may think this cannot happen, but drugs often have similar names for very dissimilar conditions.

Keep the following tips in mind in order to avoid mistaking your medications: Always read the label on your pill bottles. Do not remove the pills from the original bottle until you put them in your organizer. Wear your glasses to be sure you’re able to see the print clearly. Take your time when organizing your pills.


4. Taking your medicine with or without food

The food we eat and the liquids we drink are broken down in our bodies to molecular size. The useful molecules are absorbed and enter the biochemical system of the body. But some of those food molecules can interact or interfere with the medications you take.

Some medicines need to be taken on an empty stomach because any food may interfere with absorption. Other drugs are better absorbed when taken with a meal.

ACE inhibitors for hypertension such as captopril, enalapril or lisinopril can cause an increase in potassium in your body. So try to avoid foods high in potassium such as bananas, oranges and green leafy vegetables.

Diuretics, often called water pills, tend to wash the potassium out of your body. You may be advised to eat bananas and oranges and green leafy vegetables.

Warfarin, an anticoagulant, is used to prevent blood clotting. Vitamin K is part of the clotting system. If you eat foods high in vitamin K, such as spinach, broccoli and cabbage, the vitamin K may interfere with the warfarin. Cranberries also interact with warfarin.

Some antibiotics, such as Ciprofloxacin and Levofloxacin and some of the tetracyclines, cannot be taken with dairy products. Milk and other dairy products will interfere with the drug’s absorption and it may not work as well.

Tyramine is a molecule contained in many processed or aged foods such as sausages and cheeses. Tyramine interacts with many drugs, some antibiotics, drugs for tuberculosis, and certain antidepressants known as MAO inhibitors. The adverse reactions caused by the combination of MAO inhibitors and Tyramine can put you at risk of death.

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice cause problems with one of the systems that break down medications in the body. So if you drink a lot of grapefruit juice, you may develop a buildup of the drug in your system which can lead to serious side effects.


5. Alcohol and other drugs

Most seniors do not use street drugs, but many drink alcohol and some use prescribed marijuana. In addition many people used herbal remedies and over-the-counter drugs. And most drink coffee or tea.

Both alcohol and marijuana induce drowsiness and need to be used with caution with other drugs that have the same effects. That list includes sedatives, anti-anxiety drugs, almost any pharmaceutical used for psychiatric diagnoses, including antidepressants.

Caffeine is another drug that can interact with your medication regimen, especially if you are taking prescriptions for your heart.

St. John’s wort is often used for depression. The herb has numerous interactions with other drugs, especially those for cardiac problems, sedatives, antidepressants, anticoagulants, and hormones. The most serious reactions occur with general anesthetics and immunosuppressants, used in organ transplants.


6. More than one doctor

You may see an internist or a family physician for your high blood pressure and diabetes but you may also go to a rheumatologist or a cardiologist or a dermatologist. You may have as many as six or seven healthcare providers. And each of them may be prescribing medications for you.

Discuss your medications with each of your healthcare providers to make sure that some of the drugs used together will not cause adverse reactions.

Make sure your primary doctor is communicating with your other physicians and managing your medication regimen.


7. Getting help

Your family should be aware of the importance of taking medications for seniors and can help with your medication management..

Talk to your family. You may need help with medication management. If you have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you may need help.

If possible, have someone double check your pill organizer each week.

Medication errors can be avoided. Medication management is an essential part of keeping yourself healthy just like getting exercise and eating a healthy diet (without grapefruit juice). Follow your doctor’s treatment plan and stay healthy.