According to a study published by the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), seniors use more prescription medications than the general population — and are also at most risk for medicine-related complications. The study looked at people aged 57 through 85, finding that 81% of the participants take at least one prescription medication regularly, and nearly one-third regularly take at least 5 prescription medications. That doesn’t include over-the-counter medications and nutritional supplements, which are used regularly by nearly 50% of the study’s participants.

That’s a problem, because the possible interactions between medications goes up as the number of medications goes up. And medication interactions are a serious problem, causing nearly three-quarters of all “adverse events” that follow hospitalizations.

While computer programs used by pharmacies monitor interactions between various prescription medications, the study found that half of all major drug interactions involved prescription medications being combined with over-the-counter drugs or nutritional supplements, a factor not taken into account by these programs.

The four drugs — prescription and over-the-counter — most commonly associated with a drug interaction serious enough to result in a hospital admission, are:

  1. low-dose aspirin
  2. warfarin (Coumadin)
  3. diuretics
  4. non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil, Motrin, and Aleve.

Other major causes of adverse drug reactions are improper dosing for the patient’s age, weight, and medical condition, especially their kidney function.

What can you do to prevent drug interactions? Try these six tips:

  1. Brown bag it. In order to be sure your doctor knows every medication you take, even your mineral and vitamin supplements, put all your pill bottles in a bag, and bring them to your healthcare appointments. That’s the only way to be sure your provider will notice about everything.
  2. If you are being given a new medication or supplement, ask about side effects and drug interactions.
  3. After you’ve heard everything from your healthcare provider, ask your pharmacist for more information. Pharmacists are trained to understand the mechanisms and interactions of medications. Don’t just bring your brown bag of pills to your doctor, bring it to your pharmacist as well.
  4. Take Notes. Whenever you’re told about warning signs to look out for, write them down. You want to be sure you remember everything there is to know about every medication you’re taking.
  5. Use one pharmacy. It’s the best way to ensure your pharmacist has a full list of all your medications.
  6. Read the fine print. This can sometimes be difficult, and not just because it’s in such small print. But the package insert will warn of possible side effects and known interactions. If you don’t know what a term, like tardive dyskinesia, means, ask your doctor or pharmacist. You need to know what to look out for.

Drug complications go up as the number of medications you take go up. But you can keep yourself safe.

Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.

Beacon of LIFE maintains an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specialize in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.

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