Medication Overload: Watch for Drug Interactions

Caregiver, patient expert

A hot topic in the news lately has been about medication interactions with older people.

Associated Press medical writer Lindsey Tanner wrote a story titled, "Millions of older Americans use risky drug combos," which encapsulated the problem well.

As people age, they often are prescribed more medications for compounding health problems. They also are more apt to take herbs and over-the-counter medications. The sum total of these products can end up being a toxic stew. Since older people often don't metabolize medications well, the buildup in the body can worsen this problem.

Doctors tell people to bring in their medications when they have an appointment. But often people don't think of OTC medications, herbs and vitamins. Also, medical people are not often trained in herbs and vitamins, so they can either miss a bad mix, or they will just say quit "taking all that stuff," which to me, an admitted vitamin advocate, seems like it can be damaging to one's health, as well.

I can't overstress the number of times I've suggested to people that they take all of the medications their elder ingests to one pharmacy and ask the pharmacist to put the medication names into the computer. The drug store's computer system should be able to pick up interactions. Ask questions. Pharmacists are trained in drugs. It's what they do. They are likely your greatest resource for drug safety information.

More than once as my young son, because of several hard to treat illnesses, was going through many medications with many doctors, I was the one who found drug interactions through reading my own copy of the Physician's Desk Reference. That was before the days of easy internet access to help you do your own research.

The above cited Associated Press article mentions a good site at, which can help you do your own research. There are many other drug interaction sites online, as well. However checking with a pharmacist is a great backup to doing your own research.

So, even after the doctor visit you make with your elder and his medications, double check. Triple check.

Unless, of course, the doctor takes the elder off all medications, and starts from scratch. That approach has been known to be the answer to what was thought to be dementia. Watch those medications carefully. They are powerful tools for good. However, they can also do great harm, especially in the wrong combinations. We must be our own - and our elder's - advocate.

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