Medication and Older Adults

Any medication needs to be used according to the instructions of your pharmacist and doctor. It is important to remember that all medications are drugs, including the following:

  • Prescription
  • Over-the-counter
  • Natural health products such as herbal remedies, vitamins, minerals, homeopathic remedies, traditional Chinese medicines, and probiotics

Did you know?

  • Based on a 2008 study involving 6 provinces, of the Canadians 65 and over who were living in the community:
    • almost 62% were using 5 or more classes of prescription drugs
    • 21% were using 10 or more types of prescription drugs.
    Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2010
  • A 2008 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that 12% of patients who rushed to the emergency room at a Vancouver hospital were there because of adverse effects from medications, and were more likely to be admitted and stay in hospital longer than other patients.

How do medications affect older adults?

As we age, our bodies change:

  • Our liver, kidneys, and blood circulation work more slowly to get rid of drugs from our body.
  • We have a decreased ability to maintain normal blood pressure.
  • Our metabolic rate slows down.
  • We tend to have more chronic illnesses and take more medications.

When older adults use medications, all of the above factors can increase the chance of:

  • side effects
  • medication interactions
  • falling

Tips for safe use of medication

Knowledge is the best medicine. It is important to have a good understanding of any medication you are taking.

1. Know the following:

Know what medication you are taking

  • Name of medication
  • Strength
  • Amount
  • How you should store (external link) it (most are kept in a cool, dry place)
  • The reason you are taking the medication
  • If there are any other alternatives to taking it

Know when you are supposed to take the medication

  • What you should do if you forget to take it

Know the possible side effects of the medication

  • What side effects you should report to your doctor and/or pharmacist

Know which activities you should avoid while taking the medication

Know about interactions

  • Foods or beverages that you should avoid when taking the medication
  • Know if it is okay to drink alcohol while taking the medication.
  • Know if there are interactions with any of your other medications (prescription, over-the-counter or natural health products).

2. Communicate with your doctor, pharmacist and other health care providers

  • Tell your pharmacist, doctor and any specialist you have about all medications you are taking: over-the-counter, natural products and prescription.
  • Tell your pharmacist if you are having difficulty remembering to take your medication. Your pharmacist can provide information, support and help with a pill packing system or organizing a dosette.
  • Tell your pharmacist if you are having trouble opening the safety cap of your medication bottle. Ask if you can get a flip top lid or screw top lid instead.
  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist about any drug allergies you have.
  • Find out if you qualify for the MedsCheck Program (external link).
  • Use the same pharmacy at all times to ensure the pharmacy has a record of all medications you are taking. This helps prevent drug interactions.

3. Be prepared in case of an emergency

  • Carry a medication record with you at all times including an up-to-date list of all your medications:
    • Prescription
    • Over-the-counter
    • Natural health products
    Most pharmacies will provide this to you.
  • Keep an emergency information vial in your refrigerator which provides emergency medical responders with the most up-to-date medical information. Dial 311 to get a Vial for Life.

Resources