Senior Lifestyles: The challenges, risks of prescription drugs for seniors

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, February 27, 2018

As many of us know, getting older includes taking medicines prescribed by our physicians to help us with everything from arthritis and diabetes to high blood pressure and dozens more chronic issues.

On a weekly basis, statistics show that 90 percent of people over 65 take at least one drug, 40 percent take at least five drugs, and 12 percent take 10 or more different drug. That doesn’t include medicines prescribed and taken for acute, short term problems like infections or pain from surgery or an injury.

This is good news because, with these drugs, many members of our aging population can continue to function well and have a better quality of life. Without these drugs, they would have to endure everything from uncontrolled symptoms to pain, and most likely die at an earlier age.

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As we all know, every drug has the potential for side effects and the risk for problems increases with age, as does the severity of some side effects from today’s powerful drugs. There’s also the risk of drug interactions when more than one medicine is being taken and the doctor or pharmacist fails to recognize that a drug is not to be taken — contraindicated — with drugs already being taken.

Medication dosage is also a major concern and can be a risk as we get older due to a slower metabolism. As we age, the amount of water in the body decreases, and the amount of fat tissue increases. This matters because drugs that dissolve in water reach higher concentrations because there is less water to dilute them; drugs that dissolve in fat accumulate because there is relatively more fat tissue in which to store them.

With these age-related changes, many drugs tend to stay in an older person’s body much longer, prolonging the drug’s effect and increasing the risk of side effects. It’s a good idea to discuss the dosage with the prescribing physician, as older people often need to take smaller doses of certain drugs, or perhaps fewer daily doses to achieve the desired result.

To maximize the benefit of taking most drugs, people must remember not only to take their drugs, but also to take them at the right time and in the right way. When several drugs are taken, the schedule for taking them can be complex.

For example, drugs may have to be taken at different times throughout the day to avoid interactions. Some drugs may have to be taken with food. Other drugs have to be taken when no food is in the stomach.

Getting the greatest benefit from the drugs taken presents another challenge for older people with memory problems, as following a complex schedule is difficult, and they often need help.

There some things that can be put in place to help seniors both remember what to take and help track what drugs have been taken on a given day. One example is the use of plastic containers with days or times of day that can help people keep track of doses taken by noting the empty space. 

You can also ask your pharmacy if they can package drugs in blister packs, making accurate daily dosage easier to remove and more easily tracked.

Lastly, make a written list of all the drugs you take, keep it current and carry a copy of that list with you at all times in case of emergency, or to be able to tell your doctor or pharmacist what you take.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging. His wife’s geriatric management practice serves clients in Henderson, Polk and Brevard counties. He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on He and his wife may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at: