What You Need to Know: Medications and Interactions

As people age, their bodies change. These changes can affect the way medications are absorbed. If a person loses weight, they may require less medication than they did previously. When organ systems slow down, they affect how fast or slowly medications work.
When older adults take multiple medications, there is a risk that the medicines can react and cause side effects. Interactions may cause some medications to be even more effective while other medications may be less effective. Certain foods, such as grapefruit, may have interactions with medications that cause undesirable effects as well. While the side effects that occur from drug and food or drink interactions are usually minor, they can also be serious and even life threatening.

It’s critical that you and your loved ones know each of the medications you are taking and if any have interactions with other medications, foods, or drinks, especially alcoholic drinks. The best way to find out if there are any interactions is to ensure that every member of your health care team – physicians, pharmacists, nurses, assistants, and family members, have the complete picture of your conditions and medications.

When you consult with your health care professionals, follow these tips:

  1. Medications + more. List all medications and doses including any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, dietary supplements, and even eye drops or creams.
  2. Keep a list. Keep an up-to-date list of all medications (per tip #1) along with your current medical conditions and medical history.
  3. Consult with physician. Don’t stop taking a medicine unless you’ve consulted with the physician who prescribed it.
  4. Foods can interact, too. Tell your doctor if you are on a diet or have special eating habits.
  5. Get changes in writing. When a physician makes changes to your medications, be sure to obtain the information in writing and communicate with your other health care providers so they are aware.
  6. Pharmacists can help. Double check for any potential medication interactions with your pharmacist. In addition, if needed, request easy-open containers and large-print labels.
  7. Understand new prescriptions. Before you leave the physician or pharmacist with a new prescription, don’t forget to ask:
    • Can you confirm the name and correct dose for this medication?
    • Is this a generic? What is the brand name for the generic?
    • Can you describe the appearance (i.e. large blue and white pill)?
    • What does the medication do and when can I expect to see results?
    • What is the dose? What if I miss a dose or take too much?
    • What are potential side effects? Are there any contraindications with my other medications?
    • Are there any foods or activities I should avoid while taking this medication?
    • Should I take the medication with food or on empty stomach? When should I take this medicine in conjunction with these other medicines I am taking?
    • Will this medicine work safely with the other medications, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements I take per the list?
    • How should this medicine be stored? How do I obtain refills?
  8. Keep them to yourself. In addition, don’t forget that you should only take medicines prescribed for you.
  9. Keep them cool. Store your medications in cool, dry places away from sunlight.
  10. Don’t mix! Do not mix different types of pills in one container. It’s best to keep them in the original container.

For a complete guide on medicines, visit “Medicines and You: A Guide for Older Adults”, published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by clicking here.

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