Anne is 65 years old and has been taking the same medications for years. But now, her physician has prescribed a new one. Anne is concerned about how the drugs may interact with each other, and whether she’ll experience any side effects. How can Anne safely take this new combination of medications, and where can she find guidance?
Anne is right to be cautious. As we age, many of us need more types of medications. Drug interactions, combined with our changing metabolism, can cause new and unexpected side effects. Some of these possible side effects can put us at a greater risk for falling.
Statistics show that one in four people aged 65 and older fall every year. In fact, falls are the number one cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older Americans. While the numbers are concerning, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of falling, including being proactive about how and when you take your medications.
Kimduy Nguyen, PharmD, Clinical Pharmacist at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC), said that there are two main reasons why our senior population should keep track of their medications. First, as we age, the muscle mass, fat content and water content of our bodies change. In addition, our kidneys and liver may not work as well as they used to.
“This can cause buildup of the medication in the body, as we’re unable to metabolize or eliminate as we used to,” said Nguyen, “The distribution of the medication is different and the absorption as well. So this can increase the risk of falls, when the medications have more pronounced effects.”
The second reason we should keep close track of our medications as we age has to do with polypharmacy, which is using more than four medications – including supplements – at a given time.
“When we have more medications, there’s more potential for drug-to-drug interaction, which is medications interacting among themselves, as well as drug-disease interaction,” Nguyen said. These interactions can cause pronounced side effects, which may include lightheadedness or dizziness.
Nguyen offers a list of three important things to know when managing your medications:
- Why you’re taking the medication, including the condition it is treating
- What to expect when taking the medication, such as side effects
- How the medication works, so that you can take the medication at the time of day that’s the safest and most effective
One easy ways to stay organized and aware of your medications is to write down what you are taking, why you are taking it, and the dosage instructions. Yavapai Regional Medical Center offers a free printable Medication Record at YRMC.org.
Another way to manage your medications is to use a pill minder, which is a container with small, separate compartments. You can place individual dosages in each compartment, organized by the days of the week and time of day. Pill minders can be found at most pharmacies and other stores.
Finally, perhaps the best advice for a person like Anne, who is concerned about the side effects of a new medication, is one of the easiest to do.
“One of the best practices for safe medication management is actually talking to your doctor or pharmacist about all of your medications,” said Nguyen. “Not only prescription medications, but also herbal supplements and vitamins, inhalers and other things.”
By talking to your doctor or pharmacist, you can get the information you need to personalize a system for managing your medications. This may include what time of day to take each medication, which medications you can take at the same time, and whether you should take them on a full or empty stomach.
Yavapai Regional Medical Center has teamed up with the Arizona Falls Prevention Coalition – Northern Chapter to offer our community information and resources about how to minimize your risk of falling. The goal is to allow our citizens to enjoy an independent, active lifestyle for years to come.
For more information, tips and resources about preventing falls, visit the Arizona Falls Prevention Coalition website at azstopfalls.org.