Seniors – Medication Mixing

Do you or someone you know, take multiple medications each day? Keeping track of several medications can be tough for many seniors. Taking combinations of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications could produce harmful interactions. It is important to do everything you can to avoid medication errors. Errors can keep you from feeling your best, or at the worst, they can lead to hospitalization or even death. To prevent mistakes, ask questions at the doctor’s office, pharmacy, or hospital, and follow safe medicine handling procedures at home.

While there are no comprehensive national studies done on the frequency of medication errors, some information suggests that it is one of the most common types of adverse events in health care. In a recent national study, adverse events in Canadian hospitals, drug – and fluid – related events accounted for almost 24 per cent of events identified, second only to those related to surgery.

More than a third of reported hospital drug errors involved persons aged 65 and older. This may be because they are more likely to take multiple medications. Seniors represent about 13 per cent of the Canadian population, but they take almost 40 per cent of prescribed drugs.

Also, seniors may be more susceptible to drug errors because they are likely to use more than one pharmacy and/or doctor. A survey by the Commonwealth Fund found that the more doctors a patient saw and prescriptions they had, the more likely they were to report having experienced drug errors and medical mistakes.

Questions for your doctor and/or pharmacist:

  • Does this interact with any other medications I take?
  • What does this medication treat?
  • How will I know if the medication is working well?
  • What are common side effects?
  • What if I miss a dose?
  • Are there special instructions, such as – to take before breakfast or avoid certain foods?
  • Can I drink alcohol if I take this medication?
  • Should I use care with any activities, such as driving?
  • Does the medication require special storage?

Doctor visit action list:

  • Bring a list of current medications, along with dosages and directions, especially if you see more than one doctor.
  • Add information on any over-the-counter products or supplements taken; ie daily low-dose Aspirin®
  • Make sure your doctor checks your current medications for interactions with any samples you are given.

Safe medication practices:

  • Update medication lists as changes are made.
  • Get your medications from only one pharmacy. This ensures all of your drug information will be on one database, making it easier for the pharmacist to check your list for possible adverse drug interactions.
  • Read patient information sheets.
  • Use medication reminders, such as pill box organizers, or watch alarms.
  • If you are having difficulties taking your medication, whether it be remembering to take your pills or when to take them, have a family member help you out by organizing your pills or setting up a reminder schedule.

Source: CIHI,, and Health Canada