September 8th, 2016

Understanding Your Medications

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There’s been a lot of emphasis the last few decades on the issue of “polypharmacy”, that is, patients who are taking too may drugs.

This is especially a concern, of course, for the elderly, who cannot tolerate most drugs as well as younger people can, and who also tend to develop far more complications from their drugs than younger people do, in part because seniors like me tend to have multiple health problems, and those problems can often affect how a particular medication works in us.

medicationPlus, because seniors are often on a lot of medications, many seniors don’t fully understand how to take their meds, when to take them, when not to mix their pills, and so on, which also leads to a lot of preventable medication-related problems.

To illustrate how much of a problem this can be, in a recent study published in the journal Age Aging, over 750 “patients aged 60 and over who were taking five or more prescribed drugs simultaneously were asked about their medication”.

Only 15 % of these patients fully understood the nature of their medication use, and no surprise here, men, those taking the most meds, and the most elderly were the worst at knowing all they should know about their drugs.

So if you have to take any drugs regularly, even if it’s only 2 or 3, here’s a strategy that really cuts down on the potential pitfalls from using those meds: make your pharmacist into a very good friend.

It’s what I do: whenever I have to start on a new drug – I have had to change my blood pressure medication several times over the last couple of years, for example – I always try to ask my pharmacist about that new drug such as what are the likely side effects, what are some of the less common but more serious side effects I should look out for, when should I take my pills, with what can I take them, and how will this new pill react with the ones I’m already on, and so on.

In fact, if you’re taking 5 or more medications, there is a program called the Medication Review Service which specifically aims to answer all those questions – and some you haven’t even thought of – to help educate you about the drugs you are taking.

And one other useful medication-taking strategy that can be help a lot of people is the blister- packing service, which can help those of us who are somewhat forgetful about when to take our pills to actually take them at the time we’re supposed to.

See your pharmacist today to make sure you’re on the right track with your prescriptions.

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