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A few easy steps to help you get organized

Do you take five or more prescription medications? If so, you’re not alone. Nearly 40 percent of older adults take multiple prescription medications to manage their health. And the more medications you take, the easier it is to make a mistake. Whether that means missing a dose, taking the wrong pill or taking too much of a certain prescription, the results can be frightening. 

So how do you stay safe? 

According to Stacey Grassi, PharmD, assistant director of Geisinger’s ambulatory clinical programs, the trick is to get organized. “It’s very important to make sure your medical team and pharmacist know about all the medications you’re taking,” says Ms. Grassi. “And once you have your prescriptions, there are simple steps you can take to keep track of them.” 

6 tips to manage your medication

Here are some tips to stay on track with medication:

  • Make a list. Keep an up-to-date list of all the medicines and drugs you’re taking. Include prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs (also called OTC drugs), vitamins, supplements and herbs. Share this list with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team. Many doctor offices have medication pocket cards that you can fill out and keep in your wallet. It’s helpful to bring your medication list or your medications to your doctor appointments to ensure the office always has an up-to-date list of your medications. 
  • Keep accompanying information handy. Start a file for the paperwork that comes with your prescriptions. That way, you’ll have something to refer to if you have questions about dosages or side effects.
  • Use one pharmacy. Using one pharmacy keeps all your information in one place and makes it easy for your pharmacist to watch out for drug interactions and possible side effects. 
  • Make a chart or use a calendar. Calendars and charts are great ways to keep yourself on schedule. Write your dosing times down in advance and check them off as you go. 
  • Use a pill organizer. A plastic pill dispenser with compartments for each day of the week — or even each part of the day — takes the guesswork out of taking medications. Some pharmacies will even put your medications in blister packs to help you keep track of your medicines day-to-day. 
  • Get into a routine and set alarms. Take your medications at the same times every day and set alarms on your watch or phone to remind you.

Always take your medications exactly the way they’re prescribed. If cost becomes an issue, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. You may be able to replace some brand-name drugs with generics. Financial aid might also be available.

Be prescription proactive

Managing multiple medications well is especially important for older people, because seniors are more susceptible to complications from overmedication. Older people are also at increased risk for dangerous drug interactions and cognitive impairments that can affect daily activities, such as driving. 

It’s important to understand exactly how medications should be taken as drug interactions or failure to follow instructions can lead to trips to the ER, being admitted into the hospital and, in some cases, being admitted into a nursing facility for older folks. Fully understanding your medications and how to take them can help prevent this. 

If you’re taking a medication that requires regular bloodwork, it’s important to keep your lab appointments to ensure safety and that the medication is working to its fullest potential for you.   

If you’re trying to manage multiple medications for yourself, or you’re a caregiver for someone else, and you have questions about prescriptions, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or pharmacist. Taking a team approach is the safest and smartest way to go. 

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