Q: I am trying to help my parents manage their prescription drugs. They each take several, as well as over-the-counter items and vitamins. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Managing multiple medicines is never an easy job, and it becomes more difficult when you are helping with medications for several people.

Three out of four older adults have multiple chronic health problems. One out of every five take medications that may make another health problem worse, so it is necessary to understand how each drug may affect the other drugs being taken.

There are several partners involved in receiving and understanding medications. First, the doctor determines a particular medication is appropriate for the problem and writes the prescription. The pharmacist selects the medication and amount prescribed, packages and labels it and delivers it.

Between the time the doctor prescribes the drug and the patient starts to use it, many questions should have been asked and answered: What is this drug for? What is the active ingredient? Should I take the entire amount or can I stop when I feel better? Can I refill this prescription? How should I store this drug? What are the side effects and if they occur, what should I do?

You also need to know what, if any, foods or beverages should not be consumed while using the medication.

The “team” can help spot these types of problems, but the patient or caregiver can do a lot to make sure the medication does what it is expected to do.

The most important step is communication. You can start by writing down all the prescriptions being taken and any over-the-counter items, supplements and vitamins. Take this list or, if possible, the bottles themselves to either the doctor’s office or pharmacy for a review. Let your team members help you understand what is being taken and why and what may or may not be a potential problem.

When you get a new prescription, ask to have it checked against the list of the items already being taken. Ask specifically if the new prescription means you should stop taking one you are already taking, avoid certain over-the-counter items or avoid certain foods or beverages.

If possible, fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. This makes it easier for the pharmacist to spot a potential problem.

Managing multiple medications poses a challenge. Studies have shown that the more prescriptions a patient has, the less likely he or she will take them all correctly.

To help stay organized, ask that the labels on the drug bottles have large, clear print. Store each drug in the original package and save any written information that comes with it.

Set up a system for taking each one at the correct time. Consider using a daily pill box to ensure all pills are taken. You could also use a check list the patient can use as the medications are taken during the day.

The job is not an easy one, but with knowledge about each medication and a little planning, it can be done.


March 18: “Scams, Scams, Scams” seminar, 1:30-3 p.m. at the Westlake Village Civic Center, 31200 E. Oak Crest Drive in Westlake Village. Call 495-6250 for more information.

March 24: The Empowered Caregiver Series presents “Gadgets & Remarkable Inventions to Make Caregiving Easier,” 5:30-7 p.m. at the Senior Concerns Day Care Center, 401 Hodencamp Road in Thousand Oaks. Call 497-0189 for reservations.

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