8 Medication Safety Tips for Older Adults

May 13, 2020

1. Gather all medications, vitamins, OTC meds, and supplements into one location

If they’re all stored in different locations, it’s easy to lose track of the prescribed medication, vitamins, over-the-counter medication, or supplements that are being taken.

For example, some older adults might keep certain pills in the kitchen, some on their bedside table, and others in the bathroom medicine cabinet. 

It’s especially important to include over-the-counter medications because they could still cause negative drug reactions when combined with prescription medications.

A good habit is to gather everything into one place. 



2. Make sure medication is stored properly

In general, medication should be kept in a cool and dry place. 

That means the bathroom cabinet isn’t a good place to keep meds – moisture and heat can affect drugs. 

Medications should also be kept safely away from children or pets.

Important: For medication that requires specific storage, like refrigeration, follow the doctor or pharmacist’s instructions.


3. Create and maintain an up-to-date medication list

To prevent negative drug interactions, It’s essential to know exactly what medications your older adult is taking. 

That’s why it’s so important to always have an up-to-date list of their medications, vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medications.

Be sure to record:

Names of each prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, vitamins, and supplements
How often each item is taken
What dosage of each item is used
The healthcare provider who prescribed each prescription medication
The purpose of each item and/or symptoms it’s supposed to treat
Whether each item is for short-term or long-term use


4. Pre-sort medications for the week

Staying organized is essential to good medication management. Using a pill organizer is helpful.

The best type of pill organizer is one with enough compartments for every dose needed throughout the day. 

If any pills need to be split, it may be best to do this ahead of time and include those halves in the pill organizer compartments. 


5. Double check for negative drug interactions

Many older adults are taking multiple medications, vitamins, over-the-counter medications, or supplements. 

That’s why it’s important to double-check to make sure none of them will cause negative drug interactions.

To make sure there aren’t any interactions that the doctor or pharmacist could have missed, use an online drug interaction checker.

If any interactions are found, call the doctor or pharmacist for advice right away (don’t make any changes on your own).


6. Make sure medication instructions are clear

With medications, it’s absolutely essential to follow the doctor’s instructions. That minimizes the risk of negative drug interactions, side effects, or reducing the drug’s effectiveness.

For example, some medications need to be taken on a full stomach while others need an empty stomach.

If there’s any uncertainty, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor for explanations and detailed instructions. 


7. Understand the likely side effects of medications

It’s important to understand the potential side effects and drug interactions for each medication.

This helps you watch out for any health changes that could happen after your older adult starts a new medication, increases dose, or combines medications differently.

If you do notice changes or problems, contact their doctor right away. 

Common side effects could increase fall risk, upset the stomach, cause pain or weakness, and more. Some side effects could even mimic other health conditions, including dementia.


8. Plan ahead for medication refills

With long-term prescription medications, it’s essential to get refills on time so your older adult won’t run out and miss doses.

The most convenient solution is to ask the doctor to prescribe a 90 day supply through a mail-order pharmacy. 

Many pharmacies also offer automatic refills and will notify you when the prescription is ready to be picked up. 

Some pharmacies may also have prescription delivery services so you won’t have to pick them up. 


Piedmont Crossing encourages you to use safe practices when dealing with medications. Don't hesitate to talk with your doctor and pharmacists about other drug safety measures.