older man reaching for medicationMedication interactions with other prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, food and beverages are a concern for people of all ages. However, risks increase for older adults, specifically those over age 65 who may be managing multiple conditions. Your body also goes through several physical changes that can alter the effects of certain medications.

It’s estimated that the majority of older adults use at least five medications, which increases the likelihood of an interaction. Whether you’re thinking about trying a supplement or your doctor has recommended a new medication, learn how to avoid harmful interactions.

Types of Medication Interactions for Older Adults

Multiple factors influence the number of medications taken by older adults. The average life expectancy has increased over the past few decades and more people have developed obesity and related conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure.

Age also affects organ function and alters the body’s composition, decreasing muscle mass and increasing fat. These changes can result in different side effects for seniors and increase risk of harmful medication interactions.

For older adults, common medication interactions include:

  • Combining Warfarin, an anticoagulant, with an over-the-counter pain reliever. Together, these medications increase risk for excessive bleeding.
  • Interactions with erectile dysfunction medications, including drugs designed to treat heart conditions.
  • Drowsiness contributing to a fall, which can happen when you mix muscle relaxers with opiates.
  • Absorption issues, which can stem from calcium supplements.
  • Interactions from multivitamins, including when a patient is using Warfarin.
  • Interactions from beverages and food, with common sources being grapefruit juice and alcohol. These effects can alter coordination and memory, cause the user to become drowsy and increase the amount of medication entering their bloodstream.

In addition to these issues, a drug may be prescribed to treat a side effect stemming from a medication interaction. This can result in someone taking a higher number of medications.

Along with these aspects, not following a prescribed treatment plan can change the amount of medication circulating through the body, which also increases interaction risk. Common scenarios include:

  • Memory issues, causing patients to forget when they last took their medication. They may double up on a dose one day or forget to take their medication for multiple days.
  • Patients may take it upon themselves to discontinue or change a prescription plan. This might entail spreading a medication out over a longer period for financial reasons or replacing a prescription drug with a more accessible herbal remedy.
  • A patient’s doctor has not updated the treatment plan based on age. Long-term medication dosages need to be adjusted with age due to changes in liver function, brain operation and fat composition.

Decreasing Drug Interaction Risks

Whether managing your own care or overseeing a loved one’s health, consider the following ways to reduce medication interactions in older adults:

  • Always take a medication according to your doctor’s recommendations and never take a prescription medication your doctor has not prescribed.
  • Never share medications, even if you take the same prescription as someone else.
  • Keep all prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs stored in a cool, dry place.
  • Before using an over-the-counter medication or supplement, educate yourself on potential interactions with prescriptions and other over-the-counter solutions.
  • Bring a list of medications you currently take and discuss potential interactions with your doctor and pharmacist when you’re prescribed something new.
  • Always keep an updated prescription list on-hand. Include the medication names, dosages, frequency, purposes and how long you’ve been taking each.
  • When you pick up a medication or purchase an over-the-counter drug, read the label to make sure the dosage has not changed.
  • Consider organizing your medications with pill boxes labeled with days of the week.
  • Know the medication groups that have high interaction risks for older adults. This includes sedatives, cold and allergy medications, decongestants, blood thinners, pain medications and erectile dysfunction medications.

If you or a loved one is admitted for short-term rehabilitation or a long-term stay, medical team at West Hartford Health & Rehabilitation Center is available to discuss potential medication interactions. To learn more, contact us today.