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Following these basic tips will help you prevent adverse drug reactions and medication errors, for which adults over 65 are more likely to experience.

Medication safety is important for seniors because they often take multiple medications, are more sensitive to medication's effects, and are affected by declining vision, hearing, and memory.

  • Be an active member of your own healthcare team: Safe medication use is a shared responsibility between you, your doctor, pharmacist, and other healthcare providers.
  • Know the names of your medications: Keeping a current medication list helps your doctor and pharmacist stay informed. Be sure to list all medications including prescription, over-the-counter, herbal medications, and supplements.
  • Know why you are taking the medications: It is important to know what each medication does to identify duplicate therapy or medication errors.
  • Read labels carefully: Read the label carefully and ask questions if the instructions are unclear.
  • Ask your doctor and pharmacist questions: Your doctor and pharmacist are valuable resources for drug information. Your questions often help them to know what additional information they should provide to you. Some questions you may want to ask about taking medicine: 
    • When should I take it — as needed, or on schedule?
    • How often should I take it?
    • How long will I have to take it?
    • How will I know it’s working?
    • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
    • What are the side effects?
  • Keep your doctor and pharmacist informed: A current medication list with the names of the medications, times you take them, and reason you take them will help your providers make decisions on adjusting or changing your medications. It will also help them identify potential drug interactions.
  • Read new prescriptions before leaving the doctor's office: If you are not able to read the prescription, clarify it before you go to the pharmacy. Knowing what it says will also help you know if the pharmacy makes an error filling the prescription.
  • Never take someone else's medication: Taking other peoples' medication can lead to adverse reactions or drug interactions. Check the label on your medicine before taking it to make sure it is for you.
  • Take medications exactly as prescribed: Always follow the directions your doctor has given on how to take your medications. There are often important reasons they want you to take the medication at a specific dose and time.
  • Store medications safely: In general, most medications should be stored in a cool, dry place at room temperature, out of the reach of children, and not in direct sunlight. Some medications may require refrigeration or special storage and handling. Make sure the instructions are clear when you pick up your prescription, and if not, ask questions. Dispose of expired medications to prevent taking those that may not be effective, or may be potentially toxic. See our article on Medication Storage and Disposal

The information above was prepared by Kristie Patterson, Pharm D, Medication Safety Education Advisory Committee.