Managing Your Medicines At Home
Do you ever stand in front of your medicine bottles and wonder ‘have I taken them yet’? I know I do and then wonder, should I take them now (just in case) or should I not bother? Funny how when we feel really unwell we remember exactly what our medications are for and religiously take them but as symptoms improve the forgetfulness creeps in.
This is especially problematic when taking medication for chronic diseases and the symptoms are well controlled. However, regular missing of doses will affect how well the drugs work and may result in little or no improvement of symptoms.
As we age there are other factors which can conspire against resulting in taking our medicines more problematic. Hearing loss, poor vision and memory loss are just a few to mention not least the fact that we may not be able to open bottles due to the arthritis in our hands.
We are also more likely to be taking regular medicines to ease, control or cure ailments. It is not uncommon for older people to be taking four or more different prescribed medicines throughout the day, a lot to remember so how can we ensure we are taking our medicines safely?
Understanding how ageing can cause problems when taking medicines may help.
As we age our livers are less efficient at breaking down medicines and our kidneys are less efficient at secreting them. This is important to remember if you are not sure how many tablets you should be taking and how frequently as the drugs may build up in your body causing problems. Many GP’s prescribe lower doses of medicines to avoid this problem.
Arthritis is a common problem as we age so if you cannot open containers ask your pharmacist not to use child proof caps, let’s face it, the only people who can open them are the children! However, if children are present in your home make sure you then store them safely out of harm’s way. Your pharmacist could also dispense your medication into ‘blister packs’, which are much easier to manage.
The brain and nervous system become more sensitive to certain medicines so older people are more likely to experience side effects. Again, GP’s will prescribe lower doses and maybe just for a limited period of time.
Swallowing can be a problem for anyone regardless of age but this can increase as we get older due to a reduction in the production of saliva (dry mouth) or due to health problems such as Parkinsons disease. If this is a problem then tell your GP or pharmacist as it may be possible to have them in liquid or soluble forms. Pharmacist Daire Scanlon, Scanlons Pharmacy, Limerick suggests using Medicoat, a product available from pharmacies which coats all medications with an artificial additive promoting easier swallowing so speak to your local pharmacist about this. Regardless of how good your swallow is remember to always take your tablets in an upright position with plenty of water, at least half a glass as this helps to ensure the tablets do not start dissolving in the oesophagous which can cause irritation and lead to ulceration.
Poor hearing may result in you not understanding the verbal instructions from your GP or pharmacist and if you also have poor vision then you may not be able to correctly read the label or patient advice leaflet. Let your pharmacist know and they will happily go through them with you again. Large print labels are also an option and can be done very easily.
If you have memory problems (as we all do from time to time), Alzheimers disease or dementia then you may find managing your medicines difficult and varying from day to day. By having your medicines dispensed into ‘blister packs’ this can help remind you of what you have and haven’t taken. Speak to your pharmacist and they will organise this for you.
Useful Tips in Staying Safe with your Medicines
Make a list of all your prescribed medicines and those you purchase ‘over the counter’ including vitamin and herbal supplements. Keep it up to date and carry to it with you in your handbag or wallet.
Understand what your medicines are being used for. Ask your GP or local pharmacist if you are unsure or if you’ve forgotten.
Never swap pharmacies. If you are going away ensure you have your list of medicines with you. If you need to see a GP or pharmacist when away from home then let them see the list so they know what you are currently taking and why.
Have the address of your local pharmacist so that they can be contacted should there be a need for further information about your current medication to ensure safety if being prescribing a new medicine.
If you have missed one or more doses of your medicine do not take them all at once to ‘catch up’. Speak to your pharmacist and they will advise you on how best to manage this. Taking missed doses all at once may result in an accumulation of drugs in your blood stream which is not good!!
Tell your pharmacist or GP if you are having or think you are having ‘side effects’ or if you think the drugs aren’t working. Some side effects settle after the first few day of starting the medication or if not it may be that the ‘side effects’ can be managed without stopping the drug. Also, some drugs take some time to start having an effect or it may be that the dose requires increasing.
Never ever take medicines prescribed for someone else, they may have worked for that person but could have serious consequences for you, and this includes over the counter drugs you will buy in the health food shop or supermarket. Drugs can and do react with other drugs and supplements in a positive or negative way so caution is advised at all times. Get advice from your local pharmacist before purchasing even simple remedies to ensure they are safe to use with your current medicines.
Never crush tablets unless it is indicated on the label. Many tablets are called ‘slow release’ (sr) and these dissolve slowly over a period of time i.e. 24 hours. If you crush them then you may overdose with serious consequences as you have taken the whole dose at one time. Also, some tablets have a special coating to protect your stomach from any irritation and these are known as ‘enteric coated’ (er) so again if you crush them you have taken away that protective coating.
Never change your drug dose or regime without consulting your GP or pharmacist. Drugs are intended to be absorbed into the blood stream in a regular manner so they work effectively and changing the frequency can directly influence how well they work. A classic example is antibiotics, they should be taken at regular intervals and the course completed. If not, then the infection may recur with a vengeance. If you still have symptoms once the course is completed then you need to see your GP again.
Never tip medicines from one bottle to the next when you have a new prescription. Finish what is in the container and then dispose of the empty packaging. It is all too easy to mix medicines by mistake and also, tablets do go out of date.
Do not stock pile medicines. Return any unused or unwanted medicines to your pharmacist who will dispose of them safely for you.
Medicines are a daily necessity for a lot of us and improve our daily lives, without them life would be a lot harder. Being aware of problems or potential problems means you can now take steps to be safe with your medicines or to plan ahead for when you know you may have problems. If you do have concerns - talk it through with your pharmacist or GP. Now, I’m just wondering - have I taken my medicines or not?
Written by: Lorna Liney, BSc (hons), RGN. National General Manager, Bluebird Care