I used to visit my aunt and uncle in Missouri whenever I got the chance. They were older but still lived on their own. My uncle Bill took a lot of medicine, as is often the case with a 90-year-old. The problem was my aunt, his caregiver, felt she knew better than his doctor.
She would cut his pills in half because she thought they were making him “groggy.” She also would “prescribe” outdated meds. I found my aunt’s secret stash in a shoe box in the closet.
Both of them also took over-the-counter meds … to keep their joints limber, eyesight sharp and other things she was sure would enhance their golden years. Her approach was dangerous, but I could only help while I was there.
So, what can a caregiver do?
Brad Berberet, acting director of the Health Alliance Pharmacy Department, shared this advice.
“Many people know different drugs can interact with each other, causing unexpected side effects,” he said. “However, most people forget that interactions can occur between prescribed medications and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal supplements. Patients should let their doctor and their pharmacist know about all OTC and herbal supplements they are taking, especially when they start a new medicine.”
Our chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Parker, shared similar advice.
“When you take medication exactly as prescribed, your doctor can better monitor you for side effects,” he said. “It’s important to be honest with your doctor to assure you have the best chance of a positive, not harmful, impact to yourself or those you love.”
You can help your loved ones get rid of old medicine. Don’t just flush them. Check for places that dispose of drugs safely, like your pharmacy or hospital. Your local senior center may have suggestions.
My PCP does a medicine review every time I have an appointment. Just keeping a list of how much medicine you take and when helps your doctor. You can ask your doctor to make changes to your list so it stays current.
While I’m sure my aunt had the best intentions, her approach to medicine was dangerous. Be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medicine, prescription or over-the-counter. Not only will you avoid harmful interactions, but you will probably feel better, too.
Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.