Senior Medication Safety Updates

Related topics: Medications

Prescription drugs help seniors manage a wide array of health conditions. But when medications are not taken correctly, they can also cause health problems. Several research teams recently shared some information of interest to seniors and family caregivers.

1. More Drugs Interact with Grapefruit.

Do you enjoy a grapefruit half or a glass of grapefruit juice? If you take certain medications, this common breakfast food could cause a dangerous interaction—and a recent study shows that the list of affected medications is longer than previously thought. Experts from Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario, caution that more than 85 different drugs can interact with grapefruit. These include drugs prescribed for high cholesterol, depression, pain control and insomnia.

Why would a simple citrus fruit cause a problem with medications? Experts tell us that a substance in grapefruit causes our bodies to process certain drugs differently, creating the danger of an overdose. This could lead to kidney failure, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal bleeding, and even death. It's important to know that this bad result doesn't just happen if you consume grapefruit and your medication at the same time; the effect can last for hours, and your doctor will probably recommend that you don't eat the fruit at all as long as you are taking the medicine. Researcher Dr. David Bailey reports that seniors are at especially high risk for these dangerous interactions: they take more of these types of medications, they are more susceptible to the effects of the interaction—and, last but not least, they are the top purchasers of grapefruit!

Click here for a full list of the medications, and if you eat grapefruit, mention this to your doctor and pharmacist.

2. Memory Problems? Check Your Medications First.

Up to 18 percent of seniors experience memory and thinking problems. Up to 90 percent of people older than 65 take at least one prescription medication. Researchers from the Universite de Montreal confirm that there may be a link between these two facts. According to Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, many medications can cause memory problems, yet this fact is often overlooked. Seniors, families and even the doctor might mistake the medication-caused confusion and memory lapses for the early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

The most common culprits are drugs used to treat insomnia, anxiety, itching and allergies. It is important for seniors to be aware of the potential side effects of these drugs, to be alert for any signs, and to talk to their healthcare provider about their prescriptions. Says Dr. Tannenbaum, "Seniors can play an important role in reducing risks associated with these medications. Patients need this information so that they are more comfortable talking to their doctors and pharmacists about safer pharmacological or non-pharmacological treatment options." She says that patients and physicians should explore these options together: "Each individual has a right to make an informed choice based on preference and a thorough understanding of the effects the medications may be having on their memory and function."

3. Trash? Toilet? What to Do with Unused Drugs?

Maybe a medication was prescribed to be taken "as needed," and you didn't need it all. Maybe your doctor instructed you to discontinue a drug due to side effects. Maybe a prescription has expired. Or maybe a loved one passed away, leaving a medicine chest full of pill bottles. For whatever reason, it is sometimes necessary to dispose of unneeded medications.

To prevent the abuse of prescription drugs, and to protect children, pets and the environment, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration and Environmental Protection Agency are placing increased emphasis on safe disposal of those medicines.

If a medication container includes directions for disposal, follow those directions. In the case of a few types of drugs, the FDA recommends flushing them down the toilet. But most can be disposed of in the trash. The FDA asks that you empty the pill container or bottle into a sealed bag, mixed with coffee grounds, kitty litter or some other substance that will discourage children, pets or someone who might go through your trash looking for drugs.

The best way to dispose of unwanted medications is at your pharmacy if they have a take-back program, or at a local "Take Back" event. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the next Take Back event in your area.

Visit the FDA website for more information about safe disposal of drugs.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor and/or pharmacist with questions about the medications you take.

One More Medication "Side Effect"?

The high cost of prescription drugs can create a real hardship for many older adults. Read on to the next article in this issue, "Q & A: Extra Help with Paying for Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Costs," to learn how qualifying seniors can receive a subsidy from Social Security and/or their state's Medical Assistance office.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2014 IlluminAge