Medication safety -- what you should know

Read Special Section

It is estimated that more than 42 percent of people age 65 or older take five or more prescription drugs because of multiple chronic conditions. Polypharmacy is the word developed to describe this (the simultaneous use of five or more prescription drugs).

Each medication prescribed serves a purpose and it is important to take the medication as directed. It is equally as important to take an active role in our health, to have a clear understanding of what medications we are taking and the potential side effects. If we are not careful, an adverse reaction to a prescription might be misinterpreted as a new ailment, thus adding to our list of prescriptions!

Why you need a medication record

Where in the past one doctor managed your care, today you may see a variety of medical professionals. And while technology has us very connected, we cannot rely on it to keep our various providers up to date on our medications -- we need to be able to have that information handy so we can update and review it with them at our appointments. Sharing the most current information with them and your pharmacists helps ensure any new medication prescribed will work safely with the ones you are already taking.

So how should you do that? By creating your own "medication record" where you document:

-- All your current prescriptions (including dosage and when you take them)

-- Any over-the-counter medication taken on a regular basis (aspirin, allergy medicine)

-- Any herbal remedies, including teas, vitamins, or weight management products, including shakes, pills, and bars. Sometimes these can be dangerous!

This information can simply be recorded in a small notebook that fits in your purse or pocket making it easy to bring to all your appointments. Remember, the better you communicate with your healthcare professionals, the better they can ensure that you have the best medication for your needs.

What else can you do to help?

It is important to keep the lines of communication open with your doctor and pharmacist. Talk to them when you are prescribed medication to gain a clearer understanding of what it is and what to expect.

Some questions for your doctor:

-- Is this medication the brand name or generic?

-- What does the medication do? How will I know it is working?

-- When should I start feeling better?

-- What should I do if I miss a dose?

-- When do I stop taking this medication?

-- Does this medication replace any of the medicines I currently take?

Some questions for the pharmacist:

-- What is the name of the medication if different than what your doctor discussed with you.

-- Are there any side effects?

-- Should it be taken at a certain time of day?

-- Should it be taken with or without food?

-- Do I need to avoid any activities or certain foods while taking the medication?

-- How will this medication interact with the medicine I currently take, including over the counter and herbal remedies?

Don't be afraid to ask a question and speak up.

-- Have you noticed a change in the appearance of your medication?

-- Did you have a reaction to the medication?

-- Do you understand what you're taking and why?

REMEMBER -- Not only is it OK to ask questions, it is important and can help keep you safe.

Enlist help if you need it

You play the biggest role in your medication management. If at any point in time you feel you are unable to accomplish this successfully on your own, there are resources to help, including ABC Home Healthcare's Medication Management Program. We are here to help keep you safe. Learn more at or call 781-245-1880 for more information.