One aspect of aging that we can’t change is that our bodies change and our reactions to certain medications can change, too. Having a thorough conversation with your health care provider about your medications is as important as taking your medications as prescribed. Medication safety is about more than keeping your medicine cabinet locked. Medication safety is knowing about possible drug interactions, food interactions and symptoms that can mean you are suffering an adverse reaction to the prescribed drug.
If you are a family caregiver for a spouse, aging parent or other loved one, it’s equally important that you know your care recipient’s medications. The following questions are provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are an excellent conversation starter between you and and your loved one’s health care provider.
What to Ask Your Doctor or Pharmacist
- What is the name of the medicine and what is it supposed to do? Is there a less expensive alternative?
- How and when do I take the medicine and for how long?
- Should it be taken with water, food, or with a special medicine, or at the same time as other medicines?
- What do I do if I miss or forget a dose?
- Should it be taken before, during, or after meals?
- What is the proper dose? For example, does “four times a day” mean you have to take it in the middle of the night?
- What does your doctor mean by “as needed”?
- Are there any other special instructions to follow?
- What foods, drinks, other medicines, dietary supplements, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
- Will any tests or monitoring be required while I am taking this medicine? Do I need to report back to the doctor?
- What are the possible side effects and what do I do if they occur?
- When should I expect the medicine to start working, and how will I know if it is working?
- Will this new prescription work safely with the other prescription and over-the-counter medicines or dietary supplements I am taking?
- Do you have a patient profile form for me to fill out? Does it include space for my over-the-counter drugs and any dietary supplements?
- Is there written information about my medicine? Ask the pharmacist to review the most important information with you. (Ask if it’s available in large print or in a language other than English if you need it.)
- What is the most important thing I should know about this medicine? Ask the pharmacist any questions that may not have been answered by your doctor.
- Can I get a refill? If so, when?
- When should we discuss discontinuing this medication or changing the dosage prescribed?
- How and where should I store this medicine? In many cases, temperature extremes and humidity can affect medication performance.
In addition, update your medication list so that the new medication can be shared with your other health care providers. Include the medicine’s brand name, dosage and frequency, color and shape of the medication, your prescribing doctor and their contact information, a description of what the medication is for and date it was originally prescribed. If you need a resource for tracking medications, please download the Medication Tracker Worksheet.
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Tips for Seniors”