Caregiver Resources - Medications

Medications work with your body and/or other medications to cure, treat or prevent health conditions (1). Older adults are likely to experience health problems that require them to take medications – about 40% of those aged 85 and above use at least ten medications (2). The use of five or more medicines, including prescription and nonprescription products, is known as “polypharmacy” and can be a problem for older individuals (2).

Sometimes medications can cause side effects or react with other medications (medication interactions) (1). For example, a medicine may cause headaches or constipation, or make another medicine stronger or weaker (1). How much taken (dose), age, weight, sex or health status can affect the chances of side effects or medication interactions (1).

Prescription drugs can also interact with tobacco, alcohol, herbal supplements, certain food items and over-the-counter medications (1). To get the most out of medications and avoid medication interactions or serious side effects, take medicines as directed by the health care provider – i.e. how much, when and how (with food, drink, etc.) (1).

Try to fill prescriptions at the same drugstore or pharmacy. This way, the pharmacist has a history of which medicines used and can lookout for any potential drug interactions (1).

It is also important to keep a complete list of all medications (including non-prescription products) vitamins and supplements (including herbal products) used (3). Take this list of current medications along with the actual medications in their original containers to every medical appointment and pharmacy visit.

If you think the person you are caring for is experiencing side effects or having a drug interaction, talk to a doctor or pharmacist right away. They can review the medicines used and make sure the right treatment is given.

References

(1)  HealthLink BC. (2016). Dealing with medicine side effects and interactions. Retrieved from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/ug5135#ug5138

(2)  Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada (ISMP Canada). (2018). Deprescribing: Managing medications to reduce polypharmacy. https://www.ismp-canada.org/download/safetyBulletins/2018/ISMPCSB2018-03-Deprescribing.pdf

(3)  Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada (ISMP Canada). (2016). 5 questions to ask about your medications when you see your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. Retrieved from https://www.ismp-canada.org/download/MedRec/MedSafety_5_questions_to_ask_poster.pdf