Once we hit 65, most of us are taking some kind of medication or supplement daily. For some, it may be a Vitamin D supplement, for others heart medication. Whatever you’re taking, it’s good to know if and how they can affect your risk of falling. We’ve put together a list of ten questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist to take an active role in managing your medication and falls risk
To lower your risk of falls, it’s important to always take your medication as prescribed. Your doctor and pharmacist will be happy to answer your questions and help make a plan to take all of your medication safely. Start by asking these questions:
Sometimes, if you experience bad side effects from a medication, your doctor may suggest a non-drug alternative. For instance, if a medication to help you sleep is causing daytime sleepiness or dizziness, increasing your risk of falling, the doctor may suggest things like not taking naps longer than 30 minutes during the day; avoiding caffeine in the afternoon; having a regular, relaxing bedtime routine; and not looking at electronic screens right before bed. Regular exercise can also improve sleep.
Often the instructions you get with a prescription will indicate if you should or shouldn’t eat when taking it. These guidelines are important because of how your body absorbs the medication. There are also some foods and beverages you should avoid with some medication, like grapefruit juice. Your pharmacist would be happy to help you plan the best times to take all your medications.
There also are helpful tools to help you keep track. Some options include:
The combination of some medications and alcohol can increase your risk for falls. Medicines for sleep, pain, depression, and anxiety may not mix well with alcohol. Check the label and with the pharmacist if you think you want the option of a drink.
An up-to-date list of medication is a great way to start a conversation with your doctor or pharmacist about your falls risks. On the list, include all the medication you’re taking. Don’t forget things like patches, eye drops, even creams a doctor has prescribed. Write down over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal supplements, too. The list should include medications you only take occasionally. Make a note of how much you take, how often and when you take it. The name of the prescribing doctor and the health problem it treats can even be helpful. Keep the list with you at all times. You can get started on your list today by printing this easy-to-use form.
Some OTCs and herbal products/supplements can interact negatively with prescribed medications. Older adults should avoid diphenhydramine – which is found in Benadryl and some OTC sleep aids. It has many side effects that can increase an older adult’s risk of falling. People with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementias should not take these medications because it can make symptoms of dementia worse. Before taking any new OTC product, talk with your pharmacist about how it could react with other medications you take.
There are so many variables to prescription medications that it’s important not to share. Even if it has the same name, the dosage may be different. If you’re having a hard time paying for your medication, go to BenefitsCheckUp.org to look for benefits programs that can help pay for your prescription drugs.
A cool, dry place, easy to access, but that doesn’t make it too easy for children or pets to be tempted by them is the ideal place to store medications. Try a dresser drawer or a kitchen cabinet.
Past the expiration date, medications may not work as well, and having them around the house where children, pets, or visitors can get to them can be dangerous. The expiration date of a medication – prescription or OTC – should be clearly marked on the packaging. Prescription medications generally expire a year after dispensed. Here are a couple of options for disposal:
Opioids for pain are a short-term treatment. They will dull the level of your pain, but they can also dull your thought process, which then becomes a falls risk. If pain persists, it’s possible your doctor or a pharmacist may suggest alternative options, like:
Often programs like these are usually offered at a local senior or community center. You can also contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find one.
As a pharmacist, I love getting questions like this from people like you. I want to make sure you’re in charge of your health. So, don’t be afraid to start a conversation with these 10 questions.
By Michelle Fritsch | 9.28.2018
Michelle Fritsch, Pharm.D., BCGP, BCACP is a pharmacist and director of Meds MASH, a service that supports older adults in maintaining and extending their independence through improved medication management.