What’s In Grandmother’s Medicine Cabinet?

Do you know which medications your Grandmother is taking? Does your Grandmother know which medications she should be taking? Whether you are caring for an aging grandparent, parent, or friend, medication misuse in the elderly is an issue that can’t be ignored. People over 65 years of age purchase 30 percent of all prescription drugs and 40 percent of all over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. The average older person is taking more than four prescription medications at once plus two over-the-counter medications (FDA, 2010).

Medications have numerous forms, each with different mechanisms of action, dosages, side-effects, adverse reactions, contraindications, and peak times. They have both generic and trade names, and many have similar sounding names, or names that look alike. It’s not surprising that elders have issues with correctly remembering and taking their medications.

Following are some strategies to help patients and family members who care for the elderly:

• Prior to the physician prescribing a medication; assess whether an alternative treatment might be beneficial
• Attend physician visits with the elderly and obtain first-hand medication information
• Encourage patients to always take all medications with  them on each physician visit, so that the medications are being evaluated consistently
• Keep medications in their own bottle; never mix together
• Use a medication administration system or method to ensure medications are taken appropriately such as a pill container or white board to track medications with drug, dose, route, time, specific precautions or directions, and end date (if applicable). For example, some medications should not be taken with food and some are to be taken with food, and some shouldn’t be taken with antacids
• Encourage a relative to review all medications with the elderly person, including OTC medications 
• Keep pharmacy information available in case there are questions about medications
• Monitor medications for contraindications, especially as new medications are added
• Maintain the medication system in one area of the house; do not move the them around, and keep them out of the reach of children
• Do not mix medications with alcohol
• Do not take medications that have expired
• Do not share medications with others
• Avoid ignoring medication side-effects even if the patient has been taking the medication for a while; report any new side-effects to the physician immediately

While there are some medications that are beneficial in managing chronic diseases and symptoms, there may be some medications that are contraindicated or harmful.  Encourage your elderly patients and their families and caregivers to check the medicine cabinet and evaluate all prescription and OTC medications.