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Managing your medications

Created date

February 21st, 2012
Matt Narrett, M.D., is chief medical officer for Erickson Living and directs the provision of medical care at all Erickson Living communities. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics. He is coauthor of Old Is the New Young, a guide to successful aging (available on amazon.com). Medication has certainly changed our world for the better, with many conditions such as diabetes being more effectively treated and illnesses such as some forms of leukemia once considered terminal now being cured. Given this remarkable quality to provide great benefit, it is no surprise that medicine can also result in significant side effects and potential harm. We were reminded of this by a recentNew England Journal of Medicinearticle which described medication-related hospitalizations. Fifty percent of these hospitalizations occurred in individuals over age 80 and the Centers for Disease Control reports that older adults are hospitalized nearly seven times as often as younger adults because of adverse drug reactions. This study also found that the majority of these hospitalizations were related to commonly prescribed medications such as blood thinners like Coumadin and oral antiplatelet drugs, as well as insulin and other oral anti-diabetic drugs. Many of the cases of adverse events were simply caused by people unintentionally taking too much medication. If you are on a medicine, it is essential to understand the directions of how to take the medicine and set up a routine which makes it easy to follow the instructions.

Ask questions

When you discuss your medicine with your medical provider or your pharmacist, don t hesitate to ask detailed questions such as the best time of day to take a medicine and whether it works best when taken with food or on an empty stomach. Does once a day always mean in the morning? Does three times a day mean every eight hours around the clock or only while you re awake? Tell your doctor about all side effects, even if they seem trivial. Always have a list of medications (including over-the-counter drugs or supplements) with you in case of an emergency hospitalization, and bring that list to every appointment so that different specialists won t inadvertently prescribe a medication or treatment that may cause a reaction. Diet and exercise can affect how some medications work, so discuss any dietary or activity level changes with your doctor. If you have blood work or other tests done, call your doctor s office to follow up on the results. Ideally, you should have one doctor in charge of monitoring your master list of medications and keeping up with changes. Please remember that medication can improve the quality of your health and well-being, but you need to take an active role in managing your regimen to maximize the benefit and limit the risk. In good health, Dr. Narrett

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