A monthly e-newsletter for families, friends and caregivers, from HCI Care Services and Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa.

4 Common Medication Problems in Aging

If you’re helping an older person with health and healthcare, chances are that person is taking at least a few prescription medications.

Do you ever wonder if he or she is on the right medications? Do you worry about side effects and interactions?

These are sensible concerns. Medications help maintain health and wellbeing, but studies have repeatedly shown that older adults are at higher risk of suffering from medication-related problems.

Four Common Medication-Related Problems in Aging Adults

The most commonly reported problems include:

Side effects affecting thinking and balance. Quite a few commonly used drugs are known to make thinking and balance worse in aging adults. These include:
  • Drugs in a class known as “anticholinergics,” which includes drugs for overactive bladder, itching/allergy, vertigo, nausea, and certain drugs for nerve pain or depression. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a commonly used anticholinergic that’s often included in over-the-counter sleep aids and PM-version painkillers.
  • Sedatives and tranquilizers, which are often prescribed for sleep or for anxiety. Examples include zolpidem (Ambien) and lorazepam (Ativan).
  • Talk to your doctor about the use and/or dosage of these medications, as they may increase the risk of falls or provoke confusion. 

Drug interactions. Some drugs tend to interact with others.

  • To reduce the risk of serious problems, maintain and monitor a complete list of all medications and dosages. Don’t forget to include any over-the-counter drugs or supplements when you check for interactions.
  • Check for interactions when a new drug is prescribed. A visit with the pharmacist can be helpful.
  • If you identify a potentially problematic interaction, let the doctor know as soon as possible. However, don’t stop the medication on your own, as that can be dangerous.
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