Talking is the Prescription for Understanding Medicines

Smiling male doctor discussing over medical record with senior man in hospital

For people 65 and older, polypharmacy, or the use of multiple drugs for one or more conditions, is on the rise; in the last 20 years, there was a 200% increase. In many ways, this is good news: More ailments and chronic conditions can be addressed easily with prescribed medications. At the same time, using multiple medications can cause problems, especially if they interact poorly with each other, causing side effects or other health issues.

As we age, our bodies may react and absorb medicines differently. So, it’s critical for patients and caregivers to ask their doctors for details about the drugs they take, both prescription and over the counter. Here are five questions to bring up the next time you meet with your doctor.

  1. What does this medication do and should I still be taking it? Many of us have multiple doctors who address different health needs, and each provider might prescribe several medications. Often, prescriptions refill indefinitely. It’s worthwhile to review all your medications with each doctor. They might change your medications, including stopping drugs that are no longer necessary. (Remember: Always consult with your prescribing doctor before discontinuing a drug or taking it in a different way.
  2. Are the nonprescription, over-the-counter drugs I’m taking effective? TV and other media tout herbal preparations, supplements, and “alternative” treatments; seniors today spend billions of dollars on these products. But many are worthless and some are dangerous. Ask your doctor about whether a drug or supplement works and is safe; if the answer is no to either, save your money and/or your health. There are no “miracle” cures.
  3. Am I treating my pain in the safest, most effective, way? Pain is a serious health issue and should not be taken lightly. Treating pain has become complicated because of the current opioid crisis. Addiction is a real concern, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise non-drug treatments and non-narcotic medications to treat most types of pain. If these treatments are not effective, ask your doctor for a referral to a pain specialist.
  4. Are there any drug interactions or side effects I should be aware of? You can ask t your doctor or pharmacist this question. It’s important to know if combining drugs may cause problems, like reducing effectiveness or impacting health. Knowing the likely side effects can alert you to changes you may need to make. For example, if you take  a medication that causes drowsiness at night, or one that makes you sensitive to the sun, you may decide to take those medications at night.
  5. Is this drug the best value? Medication costs continue to skyrocket, even with Medicare drug coverage. Often generic versions of drugs are available, and they are usually covered by prescription plans. “Federal law requires generic drugs to be the same as brand-name drugs,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration assures us. “They are as safe and effective and meet the same quality standards as brand-name drugs. They are the same in the way they work, the way they are taken, and the way they should be used.” If cost is a problem, ask your provider about alternative drugs that address the same issue. 

Good health decisions depend on good communication. Talking really is the best prescription for understanding how your medications can support your good health. October is Talk About Your Medicines Month and a terrific reason to start the conversation.

Categories: Senior Health