Mind those medications, local experts advise

Medications can have interactions, and even herbs and supplements need to be considered.

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Pills in the morning, pills with lunch, more pills and then a cream to put on in the evening.

Then there are herbs and vitamins to keep track of, too.

It's no surprise that managing the prescriptions and supplements seniors use has become a challenge.

Consumers need to know what they're taking and why. Not understanding or managing medications can cause falls, confusion and a host of other medical problems

Gaining a greater awareness is important, especially for seniors, according to Mary Cleveland, program coordinator for the local office of Aging and Long Term Care. "First of all, the majority of medication use is by people 60 and older, and they may not be aware of the interactions.

"Maybe they're not asking questions. Or maybe they're going to more than one physician and they're getting prescriptions from their regular doctor and from a specialist and those two are not in communication. And people forget about their pharmacist - they know the medications better than anybody."

Another thing to be aware of: side effects. "Some of these are subtle, like memory loss and cognitive difficulties. Or you can have personality changes. Some people will think they're getting dementia and don't attribute it to their medications."

Also, an older person may not metabolize the medications as well as a younger counterpart, Cleveland said. Follow the instructions carefully.

"Or they get a new prescription and don't like it so they stop abruptly, instead of tapering off, she said. Prescriptions are not to be taken lightly. Ask questions, Cleveland advised.

"So many times, they get a prescription and don't know what it is. We go to people's homes and see medication and ask them what it's for and they have no idea. We want to help people become more aware of what they're taking."

According to Cleveland, having an active role in health care means taking control of the medications. All of the medications.

"Sometimes if a medication is topical or inhaled, people don't mention it and think it's not important because it's not a pill. Herbs and supplements also can interact with foods and medications." It's potentially a lot more complicated than at first glance.

ALTC offers presentations on medication management, known as Senior Medication Awareness RX Training, or the SMART Program, to assist seniors with organizing and understanding their medications.

The first step is to take a list of the medications along to the doctor appointment.

Write down questions and then ask them.

Getting prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy can help alleviate extra confusion about the medicines.

"The No. 1 concern is ‘Did I take that pill or not?'" said Todd Wagner, clinical director and geriatric mental health specialist at Blue Mountain Counseling in Dayton. While this type of memory lapse happens from time to time with most people, there are some very structured things that can be done to help.

"Some of the things we're doing," Wagner continued, "include setting up med-minder boxes for a lot of our clientele."

Modern technology is also being pressed into service. According to Wagner, consumers can set their cell phone alarms to ring as a reminder to take those medications. Reminder calls from friends, family or a case manager are also helpful.

Although it's a serious matter, he doesn't worry too much about the elderly population because they have a deep respect for the medical profession.

"I actually worry less about them than the younger population. The older ones have an investment to stay better and do better," Wagner said.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

At a glance

For more information, call ALTC at 509-529-6470 or Blue Mountain Counseling at 509-382-1164

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