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Perspectives: Consider these 4 medication safety tips as you get older

| Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

We've all heard the saying, “aging is like a fine wine — it gets better with time.” However, as we get older, physical changes can affect the way our body handles everyday normal activities. You might notice a burger tends to linger on your waistline a little longer, or those hangovers are much worse than you can remember back in your 20s. You should also consider this: Your medications might be affecting you differently as well. As we age, our liver and kidneys may not work as well and can affect how long it takes for a drug to break down and leave the body. And the older we get, the more likely we are to use additional medications. In order to decrease the chances of harmful drug effects, here are four medication safety tips to help ups age well — to be more like that 40-year-old port instead of the boxed wines.

1. Take your medication as prescribed

Over 55 percent of older adults admitted to not taking their medication as directed. Even if you have been taking a medication for years, it's important to keep taking it as directed, even if you think you might not need it anymore. And although drug tolerance can occur, avoid skipping doses or discontinuing medications on your own without consulting your doctor first. This is especially true in chronic conditions or “silent diseases” like high blood pressure or diabetes. With some of these medications, you may not feel the immediate effects of medications, but it's important to keep taking them in order to prevent any complications from your conditions.

2. Keep a medication list

The average older adult takes an overall average of 14 medications, so it can be difficult to keep track of medications. Ask for a handy list of your medications from your doctor or pharmacist, or better yet, make one yourself. Grab an index card, fold it in half twice to make four columns, and make the list yourself. In each column, jot down the brand and/or generic name, what condition the medication treats, the dosage/strength (how many milligrams), and how often you take it each day or week. Consider making a copy of this list for a loved one or a trusted friend in case of emergencies. Keep the list handy with you in your purse or wallet and make sure it's updated with your doctor and pharmacist. Coupled with a pill box, your medication list will help you manage your medications and take charge of your health.

3. Be familiar with your side effects

The longer you take a medication, the more familiar you will become with how your body reacts to each one. Ask or read about any possible drug or food interactions and side effects from your medications, including over-the-counter drugs (OTCs), prescriptions and even herbal preparations and supplements. If you're seeing more than one physician or using more than one pharmacy, tell each one about everything you take. This will give your health care providers the most accurate information to screen for including drug-to-drug interactions or side effects that might mimic other health conditions. Keep an eye out for any new side effects that may develop. If you notice a new bothersome side effect or have any questions, talk to your doctor and see if it can be a from a developing side effect.

4. Review your medications with your healthcare provider

The average time spent talking during a doctor's visit is just over 10 minutes, usually about five minutes of talking time for each patient and doctor. Time passes by much quicker than you may think, so be sure to leave a few minutes to review your medications and side effects with your doctor. Use this chance to discuss whether you can discontinue certain medications (if any), if a medication isn't working as well as it used to, if you're having trouble finding a pharmacy with it in stock, or if the medication is out of your budget range. Remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to your health. Both you and your health care providers must function together as a team to support your well-being and ensure your medications are working for you.

Dr. John Whyte is the former chief medical expert at Discovery Channel. He is a board-certified physician in Washington, D.C., and best-selling author. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter @drjohnwhyte.

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