Protecting older adults from medication mistakes

- Every year, tens of thousands of older adults end up in the emergency department because of problem with a prescription medication.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says seniors are twice as likely as younger adults to require emergency care because of drug interaction or side effect.

At Grady Memorial Hospital, geriatrician Dr. Ugochi Ohuabunwa and her team are making the rounds, discussing each patient in their care.

There is one she’s concerned about.

"So she's a patient that bothers me a little bit,” Dr. Ohuabunwa tells her colleagues. “She fell and became more confused as a result of the medications she had been exposed to."

Dr. Ohuabunwa, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University, takes care of patients who are usually 75 and older, and some who are younger with ongoing health issues.

Many are juggling multiple prescription drugs.

"Sometimes we give out 8 medications, sometimes 10,” she says.  “Sometimes fewer, depending on the patient."

She and her colleagues review the medications older patients are taking, knowing they can interact, and cause sometimes serious negative side effects.

And, Dr. Ohuabunwa says, an 80-year old just can't tolerate medication like a 40-year old.

"On the other hand, it's a challenge because they have multiple medical problems,” she says.  “They have high blood pressure, for which they are treated on 3 or 5 medicines. They have heart failure and they are on multiple medicines for that also."

Another challenge?

Hospitals may not share the same electronic medical record systems.

So, when an older patients transfers in from another facility, the staff may not know -- and cannot check -- what medications he or she taking.

But there are 3 simple ways to lower your risk of a medication mistake.

First, make a list of the drugs you’re taking, including over the counter and herbal supplements.

Write down the name of each drug, why you take it, and the dosage.

Next, make an appointment with your doctor to review and update your medications.

"So a number of times, the medication has been prescribes months or years ago,”  says Dr. Ohuabunwa.  “And, we just continue with those medications. And. some of those medicines can be harmful."

If you're prescribed a new medication,

Ask about any possible drug interactions and side effects.

Dr. Ohuabunwa says being an empowered patient might just keep you out of the hospital, and home, where you belong.

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