Dear Doctors: My wife and I are lending my parents a hand during the lockdown. They’re in their 80s, and we’ve noticed how many meds they are taking. They’re from a bunch of different doctors, and some may even be duplicates. How do we get things organized?
Dear Reader: As people age, they often begin to experience a variety of health conditions that lead them to seek out specialists. This can result in multiple diagnoses, each accompanied by prescriptions. If a patient isn’t well-versed in the medications they are taking and there is limited communication between their physicians, it is possible for them to wind up with prescriptions that overlap, or that lead to adverse interactions. Taking more pills than one needs is known as polypharmacy, which has become increasingly common as a large portion of the population ages.
The good news is that, with a bit of detective work and a few organizational tools, you can tame the medication tangle. Start by gathering all the medications that each parent takes. Note the name of the drug and its purpose, the dosage, the prescribing doctor and contact info, and the directions for taking it. Be sure to include over-the-counter meds, vitamins and supplements, as these can contribute to adverse interactions. If possible, make an appointment with each parent’s primary care physician for them to evaluate the meds list and, if needed, recommend changes. Office visits can be difficult to schedule, so if you have pressing concerns, your local pharmacist can identify problematic combinations. However, don’t make any changes without first checking with a health care provider.
Once the necessary and appropriate meds have been identified, create and print out a master list for each parent. Have them take their own list to each medical appointment and share it with that health care provider so the meds list is reevaluated regularly, greatly reducing the risk of duplicate prescriptions or an adverse drug interaction. When changes are made, update the master list.
Invest in weekly pill organizers. When you’re filling the boxes, it’s just as easy to set up two or three weeks’ worth of meds. Keep all of medications in one safe location, away from heat, moisture or direct sunlight, and – this is crucial – secure from children. It’s also important to keep an eye on expiration dates. Review how to dispense of expired meds. Local pharmacies and police stations often have drop-off boxes for them.