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50+: Live Better, Longer

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How Many Drugs Are You Taking?

What happens to you when you're taking 7, 10, or even 12 medicines a day? Nobody really knows, including your doctors.

Get Your Drugs in Order

The message is clear: It's time to get your medication in order. Here are a few key principles of medication management for seniors and their families. (If a family member shows any evidence of memory problems, someone else should be in charge of their medications.)

  • First, make sure all your healthcare providers know all of the medications you're taking. "Every person, of any age, should carry a complete list of all the medications they take, by name and dose and dose schedule," says Anderson. Your list should include not only prescription medications, but also over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies. Many herbal preparations can have significant interactions with prescription medications.
  • When a new medication is prescribed, ask what it's supposed to do and you're your dosage is. "The general rule is that you should start with the lowest possible dose and work up," Duxbury explains. "Ask your physician if he's starting with the smallest dose."
  • Be honest with your doctor about what you're taking. "You might get a prescription for blood pressure medication and find that you can't afford it, so you stop taking it -- but you don't tell your doctor," Duxbury says. "So you go back for a checkup and your blood pressure is still high, so you're prescribed a second medication. Eventually you'll end up in the hospital and the doctor has you listed as taking three or four different medications when you're really not taking anything. So the nurse administers all four at once, and you have a catastrophe."
  • Get to know your pharmacist. "It's a good idea to fill all your prescriptions at a single pharmacy, and elders may be better off at a 'mom and pop' drugstore than a chain," says Duxbury. "If it's the same pharmacist behind the counter every time, who knows who their customers are and something about them, that person is much more likely to catch a problem."
  • Purge your medicine cabinet on a regular basis. "Every six months to a year, take all your medications -- prescription, over-the-counter, herbal, everything -- out of your medicine cabinet, throw them into a brown paper bag, and take them to your doctor," Duxbury advises. "What he thinks you're taking, what's in your chart, and what's going down your throat are often three different things."

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