How to manage your medication
As we get older, the amount of pills we pop can grow exponentially. So how do you keep on top of your prescriptions? Ailin Quinlan asks the experts
Around one-third of people over the age of 70 are on five or more different types of medication a day, according to Dr Andrew Jordan, a GP and chairman of the National Association of GPs.
As people age further, this can climb to between 10 and 20 different types of drugs daily. So what can you do to make sure you manage your medication properly?
The first thing a patient needs to do is assume control of the medications they are taking, says Dr Andrew Jordan.
"Gather up all your medications and supplements and lay them on the table. Next, make a list of everything you are taking. Laminate it if possible. Get to know both the trade name and the generic name of every drug you are on," he says, adding that the patient may get the same drug every month but it may carry a different trade name.
An example of this would be paracetamol which is the generic name for this drug, and Panadol which is on of the brand names. "It may be the same drug but it might have a different trade name, which can be confusing," Dr Jordan explains.
Where I Go, My List Goes
Bring your list of drugs and supplements with you to every medical appointment, advises Dr Jordan.
"Anytime something new is prescribed, add it to the list. When you attend a hospital or an out-of-hours GP, it's very important to bring the list with you so that the attending doctor can see what medications you are on," emphasises Dr Brian Higgins, Galway GP and in-house doctor with TV3.
Keep all your tablets in one place -don't have some in a bedroom drawer and more in the bathroom or kitchen cabinets, instead store them together in a safe, secure place where grandchildren will not find them and think they are sweets, warns Dr Jordan.
He recommends buying a special pill organiser and laying out your tablets on a weekly basis - there are pill organisers with 28 compartments, four for each of the seven days of the week.
Know Your Why
Be an active participant in your own well-being rather than a passive consumer of healthcare, urges Dr Mark Rowe, GP and expert in positive health and lifestyle medicine.
"This means asking questions and deliberately informing yourself. For example, why do you actually need to take blood pressure medication? So that you don't get a heart attack or a stroke, but a lot of people don't understand that," says Dr Rowe.
However, he emphasises, once you know the 'why' the 'how' gets easier because you're more motivated. "Knowing why gives you more reason to take your medication," he says.
Make an effort to learn and understand as much as possible about each of the medicines you are on, advises Dr Jordan.
"Write down who prescribed each medicine, what the medication is, what it is for, what dosage you are on and how many times a day you have to take it," he says.
If you are prescribed a new medication, he advises, always ask your doctor if it is likely to cause side-effects. Ask if it will interact negatively with any of the drugs on your list.
"Always make sure that you understand the instructions about how to take a new medication and follow them."
It's also important to be very clear for how long you are to be on a medication, warns Dr Brian Higgins - whether, for example, your course of a drug is for three months, six months, five years or for forever.
Establish a Reminder System
Some medications are taken routinely on a daily basis, but others are taken less regularly. This means there is a risk of forgetting to take a particular tablet that only needs to be taken occasionally - for example, says Dr Jordan, an injection for bone density need to be taken every six months, so have a good reminder system in place.
If you are mentally alert and capable of understanding and managing your personal medication regime, it's a good idea not to opt for the pre-prepared blister packs of medications made up by the pharmacist, believes Dr Jordan.
He says that assuming responsibility for taking your medication properly ensures that you will get to understand your tablets.
However, adds Dr Brian Higgins, it is recommended that patients who suffer from either a memory or visual impairment patients opt for the pre-arranged blister packs.
Do I Still Need This?
Question whether you actually still need to be on a particular medication, recommends Dr Jordan.
"Often when we go through the list of drugs a patient is on, we will find something that the patient no longer needs to take," he says.
"A patient may have been started on a particular medication in an outpatient clinic a year ago and this may need to be reviewed.
"A lot of people come in to us and say they are on a particular tablet but have no idea why."
Explains Dr Mark Rowe: "There are some medicines you may be able to reduce, or even stop, so make sure to ask your doctor. Generally, the less medications you are on, the better."
It's also good idea to ask your pharmacist to explain about the different drugs you are taking, says Dr Rowe.
In The Case of Dementia
If a person has some form of dementia it is extremely important that a family member is prepared to step in and take over the organisation of their drugs.
This person needs to educate himself or herself about the medications a loved one is taking and be in a position to discuss this in an informed way with the loved one's healthcare professional, believes Dr Jordan.
Don't wait until the very last minute to run down to the doctor to renew your prescription for an important medication, urges Dr Jordan.
If you know your prescription is due to run out get your new prescription in plenty of time, so that you don't break the pattern of medication.
Know Your Doctor and Pharmacist
Develop a good relationship with your doctor. Being able to communicate with your doctor and feel comfortable when asking questions is important, says Dr Rowe.
Choose a doctor who is open to the partnership approach to a patient's well-being, he advises.
A good relationship with your pharmacist is also important, he points out, because the pharmacist has an important role in communicating advice about medication.
"Having a regular pharmacist is a good idea - it's better for compliance and reduces the risk of error," says Dr Rowe.
Have regular blood pressure and bone density checks
Make a point of having regular blood pressure checks to ensure that the type of medication you take for this condition is not too strong, explains Dr Brian Higgins.
"Some people find that as they get older their blood pressure begins to drop and the medication can become too strong," he says, adding that when this is the case a person may experience a fall.
It's important to be on the correct medication for you - and to be taking the correct dose of that medication, he explains.
And remember, he adds, some medications are only beneficial for a certain amount of time - for example, medication for bone density only needs to be taken for about five years.
It's important to have your bone density checked after this period of time and to review the situation with your doctor.
Simplify your Medicine Regime
Talk to your doctor about making your medicines easier to manage - for example, your doctor might be able to give you a tablet that needs to be taken just once daily instead of two or three times a day. There are also combination drugs, where you can get two medicines in one pill.
Coming out of hospital
When people are discharged from hospital they can often return home with new medication, explains Dr Brian Higgins.
When this happens, he says, it's very important to inform your GP about what new tablets the hospital has recommended for you. The hospital may also have stopped a particular course of medication which you had been taking - let your GP know about this too.
What Can I Do For Me?
Ask your doctor about what you might be able to do to support your own health and well-being along with taking the necessary prescribed medication, says Dr Rowe.
"I believe exercise is the greatest pill of all," says Dr Rowe, who says it can reduce complications in diabetes, reduce blood pressure, improve the quality of sleep and even help prevent heart disease.
"I will often recommend strength training programmes for 80-year-olds. Tai chi is great too - it can help to lower blood pressure and improve cognitive function."
Health & Living