Medications can affect elderly in different ways


By Dr. David Rideout

Living an active and healthy life is a goal for all of us. Part of the arsenal of tools to stay well is the use of medications and supplements to treat health conditions, ward off new illnesses and keep the immune systems strong.

As we age, we are more likely to develop chronic health issues that require more than one type of medication. We also are more likely to use over-the-counter medications (OTC), vitamins and herbal supplements.

With the common practice of taking multiple medications, older adults have a higher risk of drug reactions, and in some circumstances over-medication.

Overmedication can unknowingly occur with the use of over-the-counter medication.

Dr. Rideout(RXcolumn)There is a misconception in the general public that because OTC drugs do not require a doctor’s prescription, they are always safe. Some serious side effects can occur when a person ingests more medication than recommended. This can happen when a person takes a greater dose of medication than indicated on the label. It can also occur when a person unknowingly takes multiple medications together from the same class of drugs such as NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.)

Also, some OTC drugs and supplements such as vitamins and herbs can interact with prescription drugs. To avoid adverse drug events it is important to check with your doctor or a pharmacist before taking any of these OTC medications or supplements.

A good rule of thumb to help prevent adverse drug reactions and overmedication is to keep a current list of all your medications and supplements — both prescription and OTC. Besides the names of the drugs, make note of the doses and how often you take the medications. It is important to keep this list with you at all times. Share the list with all of your healthcare providers and keep a copy of the list at home.

At least once a year, review the list of medications, supplements, vitamins and any OTC drugs that you regularly take with your healthcare provider.

When you are prescribed a new drug ask your provider or pharmacist to check the drug for any drug interactions with currently prescribed medications, especially if you are taking many types of drugs.

When prescribed a new drug be sure that you understand when and how you should take it. It is also good to ask what you should do if you miss a dose and what side effects or warning signs you should be aware of if an adverse reaction occurs.

If you start to have a new health problem after beginning a new medication tell your health provider right away. If you have a serious reaction, such as difficulty breathing or swelling in your throat, call 911.

Medications are an important part of staying healthy. It is vital, however, that they be managed properly. For more information about medication and older adults visit the Health in Aging Foundation website at:

Doctor Rideout is the lead physician at Doctors Express in the Saugus Center, one of 14 Eastern Massachusetts offices, offering seven-day walk-in urgent medical care. For more information visit our website at Read additional articles archived on