Common Medications for Older Adults

As you get older, your doctor is likely to recommend certain medications to improve your health and longevity. These might include a prescription for a specific health concern or over-the-counter remedies like pills, liquids, creams, vitamins, eye drops, or supplements.

It’s helpful to keep track of which medications and over-the-counter remedies you take and to share this information with your doctor.

Risks of Medications for Older Adults

As you age, your body uses and absorbs medicines differently. For instance, changes in your digestion affect how quickly medicines travel through your body. If your circulation system slows down, medications can take longer to reach your liver and kidneys.

These factors increase the risk of different medications interacting and producing unwanted effects. A good example is the interaction between aspirin and blood thinners. Unless a doctor tells you otherwise, you should avoid taking these medicines together.

Commonly Used Medications for Older Adults

Some health concerns are more common with age, and doctors prescribe medications to help treat them. These are a few of the most common.

Amlodipine besylate. This is used alone or together with other medicines to treat high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure overworks your heart and puts pressure on your arteries. These organs may be negatively affected if your blood pressure remains high for extended periods.

Azithromycin. This antibiotic medication works by killing bacteria or preventing bacterial growth. However, it does not work for colds, flu, or other viral infections.

Levothyroxine. This is used to treat hypothyroidism, a condition whereby the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. Other uses include treatment of enlarged thyroid glands (also called goiters) and thyroid cancer.

Lisinopril. This is similar to amlodipine besylate and is also used alone or together with other medicines to treat high blood pressure (hypertension).

Metformin. This medication is used for type 2 diabetes. It can lower blood sugar levels, help your body to heal, and make sure that food gets correctly converted into energy.

Omeprazole. This is used to treat excess stomach acid, which can result in ulcers, erosive esophagitis, and acid reflux disease, for example.

Simvastatin. This is commonly used to treat high cholesterol and fat levels in the blood. It helps to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other serious medical conditions linked to clogged blood vessels.

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Risks of Combining Medications for Older Adults

When you get older, it’s normal to be using more than one medication — usually a combination of prescriptions and over-the-counter remedies. Although this is not a problem in itself, some potential risks should be noted. Use of more than one medicine at a time increases the likelihood of the following problems:

  • Falls and fractures
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty carrying out tasks you used to be able to do
  • Problems related to thinking and reasoning
  • Confusion and decreased awareness of your surroundings
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Adverse reactions or side effects from drugs
  • Hospitalization
  • Risk of death

Mistakes are also more likely when you combine medications. Medical history inaccuracies, prescription errors, and confusion over different pill types and quantities can all cause problems.

Tips for Managing Medications

To get the best out of your medications, one of the most important things you can do is create a good relationship with your doctor. It’s extremely helpful to keep all your doctor’s appointments and maintain good communication.

When you visit the doctor, it may be useful to remember the following.

Discussing medications. Always tell your doctor about any prescriptions or over-the-counter medicines you are taking, and bring up any concerns.

Requesting updates. Check in with your doctor about the medications you’re using, how well these are working for you, and whether any changes are recommended. Sometimes, your doctor will recommend reducing your dosage or even weaning off the medication completely.

Sharing your medical history. Be prepared to provide your doctor with your medical history. Relevant information could include allergies, past medical conditions, or current health concerns.

Tracking medications. Your doctor can help you with remembering and organizing your medications. They can also offer advice and suggestions like using a calendar or pillbox.

Swallowing tablets. If you have difficulty swallowing medication, ask your doctor about liquids or other alternatives to pills. Never crush or chew medicine without talking to your doctor first.

Asking for instructions in writing. Ask your doctor to write down all of your medications as well as when you should take them and in what quantities. A pharmacist is another great resource. They can offer advice and help to answer your questions.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 23, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Amlodipine (Oral Route),” “Azithromycin Oral,” “Levothyroxine (Oral Route),” “Lisinopril (Oral Route),” “Metformin (Oral Route),” “Omeprazole (Oral Route),” “Simvastatin (Oral Route).”

National Institute on Aging: “Safe Use of Medicines for Older Adults.”

U.S. FOOD & DRUG ADMINISTRATION: “Medicines and You: A Guide for Older Adults.”

VICTORIA State Government: “Medication and ageing.”

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