As we age, our healthcare needs become more complex. This often leads us to seek care from a wide variety of healthcare providers and specialists, which can result in a very high number of prescription medications.
For example, a cardiologist will prescribe medication for your heart, an endocrinologist will prescribe drugs for your thyroid gland and blood sugar, and a primary care provider will prescribe medications to treat a host of issues that arise due to the wear and tear of life.
It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of people older than 75 take at least five medications. In addition, studies have reported that greater than 50 percent of patients older than 60 are taking at least one inappropriate medication.
While medications are intended to improve the quality and length of our lives when taken appropriately, there are risks to consider. The more medications we take, the higher the chance of unintended consequences and drug interactions.
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To help maximize the effectiveness and minimize the risk of taking multiple medications, here are some helpful steps you can take to improve your care:
▪ Make sure all of your prescribers are aware of ALL the medications you take, including over-the counter medications, herbals, supplements and vitamins. Good communication between providers is the key to maximizing the effectiveness of your medications and preventing errors. Keep an updated list of your medications, or bring in all your bottles to your appointments.
▪ Try to use only one pharmacy. Your pharmacist is a valuable last line of defense against common errors and interactions, but this is much harder to do if your pharmacist is not aware of all of your prescriptions.
▪ Take responsibility for your medications. Learn what each medication is for and how it works. If a medication does not make sense or seems similar to another drug you take, ask your prescriber or pharmacist about it.
▪ Find a doctor or pharmacist that will sit down with you to review your medications in detail. You might be able to optimize your medications and even reduce the number of drugs you take.
Medications can be very helpful, but they can sometimes also cause problems. Never stop taking your medications or make changes without first talking to your prescribers. Instead, actively seek to understand the benefits and risks of your prescriptions.
Alex Meier is a clinical pharmacist at Baptist Health Richmond.