Approximately two thirds of seniors in Canada over the age of 65 have five or more drug prescriptions. Approximately a quarter have 10 prescriptions or more.
Having elderly patients using multiple medications is far from a new phenomenon. Most of us know a senior in those circumstances, even if the statistic as a whole comes across as surprising.
For our seniors, this means more than having to remember which medications to take on what day and at what time. Polypharmacy — the simultaneous use of multiple drugs by one patient – brings a whole list of potential adverse drug reactions and safety measures to keep at the forefront of their minds.
This year during National Senior Safety Week, the Canada Safety Council is taking the opportunity to remind Canadians about the importance of safe drug-taking habits. Good health, quality of life and general well-being can hang in the balance.
Organization is a crucial part of proper medication-taking. When prescribing the drug, doctors will also provide instructions on what dose to take, what time of day, how many times per week and any additional information necessary to proper use. It’s absolutely crucial that these instructions be followed to the letter.
This can be more difficult when multiple drugs enter the equation. Keep a complete, current list of medications you use, along with dosages and schedules. Also make a note as to why you’re taking every specific drug. If you’re not sure or can’t recall, call your doctor’s office and ask for their assistance.
A useful tool to help keep the chaos at bay is to sort the medications into a weekly plastic pill organizer, available at most pharmacies. By dividing the drugs as necessary on a week-by-week basis, it removes much of the guesswork that comes with being uncertain about having taken the medication on any given day.
Here are some more useful tips:
- Inform your healthcare professional what kind of medications you’re taking. This includes anything that may have already been prescribed, as well as over-the-counter painkillers, herbal remedies and vitamins. Your doctor needs to know which drugs you’re currently taking so they can avoid prescribing medication that is known to interact with them.
- It can be difficult to remember every drug you’re using, so keep a current detailed list of these, including your name, information on medical conditions and previous reactions or allergies.
- Fill your prescriptions at the same pharmacy every time. The added familiarity will provide a safety blanket if the staff notices you taking two or more medications that should not be mixed.
- Learn about the drugs you’re taking. Read the information printed on the bottle and do research online as well to be fully informed. If you have questions, your pharmacist will be able to provide answers.
- Never stop taking a prescription earlier than recommended, even if you’re starting to feel better. Always consult with your doctor before ceasing use of any medication.
- Do not share your own prescriptions or take someone else’s prescription.
- Caregivers also have a responsibility to always be fully focused on the task at hand. If you’ve been tasked with dispensing and administering drugs, ensure that you’re paying attention at all times. Errors can sneak in when vigilance falls by the wayside. Be smart, be alert and prevent mistakes before they happen.
Following these simple tips will help keep the risks of serious adverse reactions at a minimum and keep a good quality of life moving forward.
For more information, please contact:
Communications/Media Program Coordinator
Canada Safety Council
(613) 739-1535 (ext. 228)