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Make sure medications help, not harm

When taken properly, medications help seniors live longer, often with less pain and greater independence. However, just because a pill is prescribed by a physician, that doesn’t mean it can’t be dangerous.

Many medications have complex side effects or potentially adverse reactions when combined with other prescriptions. Also, taking too much or too little of a medication results in thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year.

Despite these risks, kupuna fill more prescriptions and take more over-the-counter medication than any other age group. Knowing what pills you take and taking care to manage medications safely can help prevent harmful side effects such as confusion, falls or toxicity.

Here are a few tips to ensure your medications are improving your well-being, not harming it.

Get organized

Keeping track of medications can be a challenge, especially for the nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries who have five or more prescriptions. Knowing when to take each medication, and remembering whether or not you already took your daily dose, is enough to confuse anyone.

Pill organizers are an affordable, easy-to-use option to help patients take medications correctly. It’s easy to see at a glance what pills you need to take and organizers help to eliminate accidental doubling up or skipping medication. Set a recurring alarm to ensure you don’t miss a dose. You could also take your medications at the same time as an activity that is part or your daily routine, such as brushing your teeth or going to bed.


Many seniors see multiple specialists to treat different conditions. If doctors don’t know what drugs you’re taking, they may inadvertently prescribe a medication that is dangerous in combination with another drug. For example, blood thinners that treat heart disease may cause stomach bleeding if taken with certain painkillers.

Create a comprehensive list of prescriptions, herbal supplements, vitamins and over-the-counter medications, and share it with your doctors. They’ll be able to provide safer and more effective care if they have a picture of your total health.

Keep taking medications

There are many reasons why people skip doses or stop taking their medication altogether. Often patients who don’t feel sick don’t want to continue taking pills. Sometimes medications cause negative side effects that can make a patient feel sick, depressed or confused. Commonly, patients can’t afford their medication or don’t want to pay the money for them. Some people just don’t like taking pills.

Making medication decisions on your own can be extremely dangerous. Stopping a medication without your provider’s knowledge can worsen your condition.

If you want to change your dose or stop taking a prescription, talk to your provider about a new treatment plan. He or she can help you address your issues by treating side effects, finding a cheaper alternative and making sure you understand the risks.

Remember, your care providers and pharmacists are your allies when it comes to your health. They can answer your questions and provide tips to help you manage your medications safely.

Ross Takara is the senior director of pharmacy at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii.

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