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Taking Medicine

People age 65 and older take more prescription and over-the-counter medicines than any other age group. Older people as a group tend to have more long-term, chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Because older people may have a number of health problems or issues at the same time, it is common for older people to take many different drugs. To avoid risk and get the best results from your medicines, here are some tips on how to take medicines safely and manage them wisely.

  • Check the label on your medicine before taking it to make sure that it is for you.
  • Read and save any written information that comes with the medicine.
  • Take the medicine according to the schedule on the label.
  • Don't take more or less than the prescribed amount of any medicine.
  • If swallowing tablets is difficult, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether there is a liquid form of the medicine or whether you could crush your tablets.
    • Do not break, crush, or chew tablets without asking a health professional first.
    • NEVER break, crush, or chew a capsule.
  • Get into the habit of checking the expiration dates on your medicine bottles, and throw away medicine that has expired.
  • Try to set and follow a routine for taking your medicines.

Types of Medicine

There are two types of medications: prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs. Prescription drugs are prescribed by a doctor. Over-the-counter drugs can be purchased without a doctor's prescription.

It is important to realize that over-the-counter products include many different substances such as vitamins and minerals, herbal and dietary supplements, laxatives, cold medicines, and antacids.

If your doctor prescribes a medication for your condition, make sure that you find out as much about it as you can and that you learn to take it properly.

Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse about the right way to take any medicine before you start to use it. Ask questions when you don't know the meaning of a word, or when instructions aren't clear.

Here are some specific questions to ask:

  • How should I store the medication?
  • Does the medication need to be refrigerated?
  • Can the pharmacist substitute a less expensive, generic form of the medicine?
  • What is the name of the medicine and why am I taking it?
  • What is the name of the condition this medicine will treat?
  • How long will it take to work?
  • When should I take it? As needed, or on a schedule? Before, with, or between meals? At bedtime?
  • How often should I take it?
  • How long will I have to take it?
  • How will I feel once I start taking this medicine?
  • How will I know if this medicine is working?
  • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
  • What side effects might I expect? Should I report them?
  • Can this medicine interact with other prescription and over-the-counter medicines -- including herbal and dietary supplements -- that I am taking now?

Absorption of Medicine

As the body ages, its ability to absorb and process foods and drugs changes. Older people often need smaller doses of medicine per pound of body weight than they did when they were younger.

Grapefruit Effect

Be aware of the grapefruit effect. Taking certain medications with a glass of grapefruit juice can lead to higher levels of medicine in the blood, which can cause health problems.

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