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posted: April 30, 2006

Timely Tips

Timely Tip: Keeping a Lid on Accidental Elderly Poisonings

Accidental poisoning among our elderly is a danger often brought on by the complex medication regimens they maintain, as most seniors take a number of prescription drugs on a daily basis, sometimes prescribed by different doctors. The wrong mixture of these drugs can prove fatal.

As a result, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) is striving to increase awareness among elder-caregivers and their loved ones on the unwitting dangers that lie in well-intentioned prescriptions.

“Medication poisonings are a problem among our growing senior population,” said Daniel J. Cobaugh, director of research for ASHP’s Research and Education Foundation. “The good news is that healthcare professionals, caregivers and seniors can work together to create a solution. By being active participants in their healthcare and by staying informed of their medications and conditions, seniors and their caregivers can help doctors and pharmacists ensure they get the best possible care.”

ASHP offers these tips to reduce the risk:

  • Keep a list of medications.  A written record of the medications taken, including drug name, dosage, and frequency, is an important tool to have during physician visits and in case of an emergency. 
  • Communicate. Inform doctors and pharmacists of all medications taken, including non-prescription meds and dietary supplements, to reduce the chances of an interaction.
  • Learn about medications.  Ask the doctor or pharmacist to explain why a certain medication is prescribed, the food and medicines to avoid, and possible reactions and side effects. 
  • Use one pharmacy. Many seniors receive prescriptions from more than one doctor, making drug interactions more likely. By using one pharmacy, all prescriptions are consolidated and a pharmacist can check for possible interactions between medications.
  • Keep a journal. Make note of all symptoms, especially after taking medications. Painful or unexpected side effects may signal a need for adjusting a medication regimen.
  • Maintain a schedule. Holding to a routine can decrease chances of missing dosages or taking more than needed.
“Patients should immediately contact their physician if they experience an adverse reaction to their medicines,” says Cobaugh.  If the physician is not available, Cobaugh recommends contacting the local poison center using the toll free number (800) 222-1222. For more medications safety tips and information, check out ASHP’s website.

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