What Older Adults Can Do to Manage Medications

You can lower your risk of problems with medications. Keep the following tips in mind and ask questions of your healthcare professional or pharmacist.

Make a List

Keep a list of all the medications you take. This list should include prescriptions, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, herbal remedies, vitamins, and other supplements. Remember to also list medications that are not pills, such as patches, inhalers, injections, creams, and ointments. 

Your list should contain the medication dosage and frequency of use, and what the medicines are for. Bring the list with you to all healthcare professional visits.

Write down any questions you have about your medicines so you can remember to ask during your appointment.

Review your Medications Regularly

When you see your healthcare provider, go over your list of medications and questions with them. This is especially important after youve been in the hospital or have seen another provider.

This will help the provider know about any changes. They can also check for side effects and drug interactions.

Read all prescription labels carefully. You will find the following information:

  • Directions for taking your medications
  • What to take or not take with the medicines (e.g., food, drink, other medicines)
  • Possible side effects and things to watch for

Look out for Side Effects

Ask what side effects your medications can cause and watch for them. Tell your healthcare professional as soon as possible about any problems.

Dont stop taking a medication without first checking with your healthcare provider.

Ask about Over-the-Counter Medications

OTC medications are sold at pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, or discount stores. You can buy these medicines on your own without a prescription. Examples of OTC medications include:

  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) for pain or fever
  • Allegra (fexofenadine) for allergies
  • Tums (calcium carbonate) for heartburn or calcium supplement

Some OTC medications can make your condition worse, cause side effects, or may interact with other medicines making them less safe or effective.

Some OTC medication labels are for younger people and do not contain warnings for older adults. Be sure to ask your pharmacist about the correct dose of OTC medications for your use and careful not to take too much.

Review Medications While You're in the Hospital

If you are in the hospital, make sure the hospital care team knows about all the medicines you take at home. While in the hospital, this team will be responsible for giving you the medicines you need. Do not take any medications on your own.

Sometimes, you may get new medications during your hospital stay. Ask if you need to continue them and/or your home medicines after you leave the hospital.

Look Out for Inappropriate Medications

Experts from the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) say that some medications may not be safe for older adults. So, older adults should avoid them or use them with caution.

Whenever you or an older adult in your care gets a new medication, ask why its being prescribed. Ask if it is good for your age and health problems.

See the AGS Beers Criteria® for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults section for more information. The Criteria identify medications that may have greater risks than benefits for people aged 65 and older.
  • If a medication is listed in the AGS Beers Criteria®, talk to your healthcare professional.  Ask if there might be a safer alternative.

If a medication you take is included in the AGS Beers Criteria®, it still may be a reasonable choice. Talk with your healthcare professional about what to watch for while you use it.

Take Your Medication Properly

As many as half of older adults don’t follow their healthcare providers recommendations about how to take their medications.

For older adults, some issues include:

  • Difficulty reading, understanding, or remembering directions on labels. The print may be too small or directions may be unclear.
  • Healthcare providers not providing enough information about the importance of taking medications properly. For example, high blood pressure or cholesterol medicines are important to take, even though the conditions often don’t have symptoms.
    • What to do: Talk with your pharmacist about directions when you pick up your medications.
  • Trouble opening medicine containers.
    • What to do: Your pharmacist can give you a medication cap that is easy to open.
  • Medications being too expensive to buy.
    • What to do: Some drug companies have a patient assistance program to help those who cannot afford their medicines. There may also be government programs that can help. Ask your healthcare professional or pharmacist.

If you have trouble taking your medication or care for an older adult who has difficulties, discuss it with the healthcare provider. They may have solutions for you.

Always talk with your healthcare professional or pharmacist about your medications and any possible side effects to watch for. Track possible side effects of medicines, especially when they are new or serious, and talk to your provider.


Last Updated March 2023

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