How to Identify and Prevent Overmedication in Seniors

Older adult woman wearing glasses and looking at a prescription medication bottle.
Seeing multiple doctors, taking several prescriptions, and combining these with over-the-counter drugs and vitamins, increases the risk of overmedication in seniors; but there are steps to reduce the risk.

The days of “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” have transformed into something that sounds more like, “take two of these…and two of these…and perhaps one of those, too!” Nearly forty percent of older adults are taking at least five different prescription medications every day – in addition to vitamins, supplements, and OTC meds. It is easy to understand why overmedication and adverse medication reactions are so common in older adults.

Take these actions to avoid medication problems for a senior you love:

  • Make a list, and check it twice. Create a list of all the medications – both prescription and over-the-counter – that the older adult is currently taking. Share the list with all of his/her healthcare providers, and present updated lists whenever there is a change in medications. Then at the very least every six months, review the list with their primary care physician to confirm that all of the medications are needed, work well together, and that current doses are optimal.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ensure that you have a good understanding of what each medication is actually for, and make sure there aren’t any contraindications with other medications the older adult is taking. The doctor or pharmacist can run the older adult’s meds through a drug interaction database to confirm. If you are unsure about anything associated with the medications prescribed, speak up. You will want to be sure you have a solid understanding of the following:
    • How to rectify the situation if a dose is missed
    • When and how the meds should be taken (for example, on a full stomach, with a full glass of water, if they should be broken in half or crushed, etc.)
    • Whether a generic version is available
    • What the potential side effects could be
    • And any other questions you might have
  • Establish a system. After you’ve confirmed that all of the senior’s medications are necessary and have the information and knowledge you need to ensure they are taken correctly, create a system for following doctors’ orders. Depending on the older adult’s cognitive functioning, this might be as simple as a pill box that is filled weekly. Or you may want to depend on the services of a home care provider, like JFS Care, for medication reminders, which can be an effective method to reduce the risk of overmedication in seniors.

Additionally, it is important to remember that a physician should always be consulted prior to starting, stopping, or changing any medications, including over-the-counter medications and vitamins. Some prescription medications belong to the same drug category as OTC meds, that could result in an excessive amount of a medication being administered. In other cases, vitamins or OTC medications interact negatively with prescriptions.

Our care professionals are always here to help older adults stay healthy and safe. Reach out to the care management experts at JFS Care by calling 213-383-2273. We can provide additional information about our leading home care agency in Encino and the surrounding areas, options for in-home care services, and how home care can benefit an older adult in your life. Please see our full service area to find us in your neighborhood.