“Gramma, which medication are you taking right now?” I asked. My grandmother had one of her prescription bottles in her hand, and without even looking at the label, she had unscrewed the top and was ready to pop one of the white pills in her mouth.
“My heart pills,” she said, handing me the bottle.
I read the label. “These aren’t your heart pills, Gramma. These are your thyroid pills.”
“Oh, well I must have grabbed the wrong bottle,” she said.
“You really need to check the bottles before you take your medications, Gramma,” I said.
“Do you know how long I’ve been taking these pills? I know what I’m doing, don’t worry,” she said.
This concerned me. What if I had not been with her?
How could I prevent my grandmother from accidentally poisoning herself with the wrong medication, or from taking the wrong dosage of a medication?
I found that my concerns were justified. The American Association of Poison Control Centers received 2.4 million calls in the United States in 2010 regarding human exposures to poisons. These poisons included painkillers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, cardiovascular medications, antihistamines, cough and cold medications, and vitamins.
The small print on prescription labels and the plethora of information squeezed into tiny spaces can make it hard to take just taking one medication correctly. Imagine how easy it can be to confuse your doses if you’re taking several different medications each day.
What Precautions Can Older Adults Take to Stay Safe?
- First and foremost, make a chart of all of your medications. Make sure the dosing instructions for each are written out clearly and completely. Go over this chart with your doctor to ensure that it is accurate and up-to-date. If you are caring for an elderly loved one, assist him or her in making a chart that will be easy to use and understand.
- While visiting the doctor or the pharmacy, ask for clarification of all dosage instructions. For example, if you are supposed to take one of your medications three times per day, does this mean that you need to take it at breakfast, lunch and dinner? Or, are you supposed to take it every eight hours? Also, clarify which medications you can take together, to make the schedule less complicated and time consuming.
- Re-check dosage instructions every time you take your medications. Turn on the light. Put on your glasses. If you can’t read the label, it won’t do you any good. Follow the instructions to the letter. Do not take liberties.
- If the instructions tell you to take the medication with food or water, take it with food or water. Some medications can cause esophageal or stomach irritation, making you feel sick within minutes. You want to try your best to avoid this.
- Do not drink alcohol with your medications. Alcohol can not only counteract certain medications, but it can also enhance negative side effects.
- Do not share medications with family and friends.
- Go through your medicine cabinet on a regular basis and safely dispose of any expired or unneeded medications.
Taking these precautions can prevent severe and possibly fatal mistakes. For more information on how to properly read and understand prescription drug labels, please visit the Internet Drug Side Effect Database.