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What You Should Know About Taking Medicine

by Betty Soldz

As we grow older, we find the number of medicines needed increases. Many older people are taking six or seven prescriptions as well as over-the-counter medications. This is double-edged. The upside is that it may make you healthier and better able to cope with your medical problems, but the downside is that if you do not take your medication correctly, it can be harmful.

When a doctor prescribes medicine, it is because he/she believes it is necessary for your condition. Yet, in the US it is believed that 14% of prescriptions are never filled and 13% of those that are filled are never taken. If a certain number of doses are prescribed, it is necessary to complete the regimen of doses. By not completing the course of the prescribed medications a condition may worsen or return. Furthermore, it is estimated that 29% of all filled prescriptions are not finished.

It is also important to take your medicine correctly. Some medications need to be taken with food, others on an empty stomach, some at night, some in the morning. Ask your doctor to give you written instructions and your pharmacist to explain how to take the drug. Most pharmacies give you a computer printout explaining how to use the prescription, its side effects, precautions, drug interactions and what to do in case you accidentally take an overdose or miss a dose. It is very hard to remember all this information when you are taking numerous prescriptions; therefore, be sure to keep these instructions in a safe place and refer to them periodically.

Because many drugs interact with other medications, be sure the doctor has a complete list of all the drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter drugs as well as vitamins and other supplements) you take. It is helpful to take an updated list every time visiting a physician. Most elders see three or four different doctors and it is up to us to protect ourselves by making sure we know what drugs we take so doctors can correctly and safely prescribe for us.

One of the misconceptions we have about medicine is that we should keep it in our medicine cabinet. Because they should be stored in a dry safe place we should not store them in the bathroom, generally the most moist location in a house. In addition, keep all medications away from sunlight.

Although safety caps on medicine bottles are important in homes with small children, they discourage older people from taking their medicine because they they may not be able to remove the cap. If you cannot put the safety cap back on it allows moisture to react with the pills perhaps causing disintegration. If you are taking a pill that needs to be cut in half, it is best if you wait until it is time to take your pill to cut it. Halving a number of pills ahead of time may allow them to absorb moisture.

Prescription bottles have a date after which the contents are no longer effective. In some cases outdated drugs can decompose and turn dangerous. Check your bottles periodically and throw away all drugs that have expired.

It is still not well publicized that you need to share medical information with your dentist. Some medications used by dentists can interact adversely with prescription drugs. A number of health conditions require that antibiotics be taken before dental work, including having teeth cleaned, and other medications may have to be halted a few days before dental work is performed. Tell your dentist what health conditions you're experiencing and discuss planned dental work with the doctor.

Do not skip taking your prescriptions. In order to avoid confusion organize your pills so that it's possible to check if you've taken them correctly. Drug stores sell containers for organizing a week's pills at a time.* Another suggestion is to create a sheet listing each medicine: date, time to take it, what it is for and the name of the doctor who prescribed it. Then photocopy and use each day, checking off the appropriate areas when taking prescriptions.

Because drugs have become so expensive, some people halve their pills in order to save money. Before doing this always check with your doctor on the efficacy of doing this. Only cut your pills when your doctor prescribes one-half a pill. If cost is a problem, ask if a generic drug can be substituted for a brand name drug. Ask a physician for free samples. Some pharmaceutical companies offer assistance programs for people who meet specific eligibility requirements. To locate such programs go to the Medicare site www.medicare.gov. **

Lastly, I would like to suggest that you always check your prescription before leaving the pharmacy. You just might catch a mistake. Sometimes the pharmacist misreads the handwriting or may have accidentally picked up the wrong pills. Also check that your name is correct. Make sure you were handed the correct prescription. Although mistakes do not happen too often they do happen and you can safeguard your health by being watchful.

Cautious use of prescription drugs leads to a healthier life.

*Editor's Note: We have purchased for relatives a product that displays a clock, allowing the user to remember when last they took a particular medication.
** NeedyMeds is one another site that informs about patient assistance programs and other sources designed to help those who can't afford their medicines

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