Being older is a leading risk factor for many diseases and conditions, including those that require regular medications. Even though these medications can help seniors live healthier lives, it’s important that they pay close attention to how to safely use their medication. Many common prescriptions can cause harmful side effects if they aren’t used as directed.

Prescription Safety

The most common substances that seniors misuse are benzodiazepines for anxiety and insomnia, pain relievers for arthritis and hip fractures, and over-the-counter medications. Unfortunately, the symptoms of prescription drug misuse often mirror common signs of aging — such as memory loss, disorientation, depression and lack of balance — and may be hard for patients or their family members to recognize.

Talk to Your Doctor About the Medications You Take

One way to avoid misusing prescription drugs is to keep your doctor up to speed on all of the medications you’re taking. That includes over-the-counter pills and vitamin and mineral supplements.

Whether it’s a prescription drug or daily vitamin, your doctor will be able to make sure you’re using it correctly and fully benefiting from it. To make sure your doctor knows about all of your medications, try these helpful tips:

  • If you’re unsure why you’re taking a drug, be sure to ask. It’s important to know the role that medications play in managing your medical conditions.
  • If you feel your drug isn’t effective or it’s causing symptoms that weren’t present before starting a drug, be sure to notify your doctor or local pharmacist.
  • Be honest and let your doctor know if you’re not taking a medication as directed — and why. For example, let them know if you changed your dosage because of side effects.
  • Keep an up-to-date Personal Medication Record and bring all of your medications — including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and vitamins — in their pill bottles or packages to your next doctor’s visit. This will help your doctor fully understand what you’re taking each day.

Keep Your Medications Organized to Prevent Mistakes

To ensure you’re taking your medication safely — the right amounts at the right time — use a pill organizer. The organizer can help you to establish a routine that makes remembering to take your medications easier.

You also need to make sure your prescriptions are refilled on time. These tips may help you avoid opening an empty pill bottle:

  • Use your preferred pharmacy’s automated refill program. Many offer reminders or even automatic refills.
  • Download a free prescription reminder app for your smartphone or tablet (see sidebar).

Prescription drugs should be taken seriously, and require you to communicate and understand issues and questions. When in doubt, be sure to speak with your doctor or a pharmacist about when, why and how to properly take them.