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Drug Safety for Seniors

Nov 6, 2012 | Campaigns, Home & Community Safety, National Senior Safety Week

The Canada Safety Council’s National Senior Safety Week is November 6 – 12.

Many older Canadians are on multiple medications to treat a wide spectrum of ailments and improve quality of life. But without taking proper precautions, these life-saving and life-improving drugs can cause sickness and premature death.

Nearly two-thirds of Canadians ages 65 and up are taking five or more types of prescription medication every year. One in five seniors is taking 10 or more types of prescribed drugs annually, and 5.5 per cent, or about one in 20 seniors, are taking 15 or more types of medications to manage conditions from diabetes to high blood pressure, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. These numbers do not include non-prescription medications and remedies, such as over-the-counter painkillers, herbal medicines and vitamins.

Taking multiple medications increases the risk for adverse drug events, which are injuries resulting from the use of medication. The good news: proactive steps can easily be taken to reduce the risk of seniors being harmed by mistakes with medicines.

“We encourage all patients, especially seniors, to keep a current medication list with them at all times and to communicate this list to all people involved in their care. This simple action can help providers make informed decisions about the patient’s care and prevent errors from happening,” said David U, president and CEO of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada. “Knowledge about the balance between potential benefits and harm from medications is also important and we encourage individuals to ask their health care providers any questions about their medications.”

This National Senior Safety Week, the Canada Safety Council is advocating for the safe use of medication to ensure the health, well-being, and utmost quality of life for aging Canadians.

Safety Steps for Seniors

Being organized with medication is essential to safety. Keep a complete, current list of all the medications you use. This includes all your current prescriptions, along with any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, minerals, natural health products and traditional medicines. Sprays, patches, laxatives, cough and cold medication, painkillers, injections, creams, and even eye, ear and nose drops should also make that list. Indicate on your list why and when you are using each item.

Furthermore, your list should include your name, information on your medical conditions, allergies, and previous drug reactions. You or your caregivers need to partner with healthcare providers and pharmacists to take an active role in monitoring what medicines are being taken, when and in what quantities.

A free iPhone application called MyMedRec is available to help you track personal medical information. Caregivers with more than one patient can use the app to create and organize multiple medical profiles.

If you prefer writing down your information, order a free medication record booklet by visiting Another option is to create a custom medication record in a PDF, available at

The consumer-focused website for the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada,, provides a selection of materials designed to help consumers reduce their chances of being harmed by a mistake with medicines. The site also offers an electronic reporting program that allows consumers to share information about medication incidents with ISMP Canada.


Safety Tips

The Canada Safety Council offers the following recommendations for safe use of medications among seniors:

  • Keep a current list of all the prescription and non-prescription medicines you use. Indicate why, when and how you use them. Bring this list with you every time you see a healthcare provider or pharmacist.
  • Use the same pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions. Remember to tell your pharmacist about any over-the-counter drugs, herbal medicines or vitamins you are taking.
  • Before starting a new medicine, prescription or not, check with your pharmacist to make sure that the new addition will not adversely interact with your existing medicines.
  • Read the printed information that comes with your medicine and learn as much as you can about what you are taking. If you have questions, ask your pharmacist.
  • Take your medications in the recommended dosages at the recommended times of day and for the recommended duration. Do not stop taking your medication early because you have started to feel better. Consult your healthcare professional.
  • Do not share your prescription medication and do not take another person’s prescription.
  • If you are the caregiver for an elderly person, make sure your entire attention is focused when dispensing and administering drugs. Distractions can easily cause human error and mix-ups, leading to harmful consequences for the elderly patient.

For more information, please visit and


For more information, please contact:

Catherine Benesch
Communications/Media Program Coordinator, Canada Safety Council
(613) 739-1535 (ext. 228)

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