Managing Medications to Optimize Health

By 2030, about 20% of the U.S. population will be over 65 (Centers for Disease Control, 2017). The risk of developing a chronic disease—that is, an illness that cannot be cured by medicine and is expected to be a long-term problem—increases as people age. Two-thirds of Medicare recipients aged 65 to 74 have multiple chronic illnesses. Seventy-eight percent of 75- to 84-year-olds and 83% of those over 85 have multiple chronic diseases (Centers for Disease Control, 2013). Chronic diseases often take several different medications to manage. This is called polypharmacy. Medication management can get tricky, especially considering that the older adult’s body systems may not break down drugs as well as a younger adult’s. Medications are vital to staying as healthy as possible but also may have some risks. Here are the top ten ways to make sure you are managing your medications to minimize the risks.

  1. Have a medical home. This means going to the same clinic and provider for your main medication needs. You may have specialists to see, but a primary care provider can act as the “hub of the wheel” so nothing is overlooked or mismanaged.
  2. Have one pharmacy. Using only one pharmacy means that your pharmacist knows all the drugs you take and can make sure no drugs interact with each other. If you do get a new prescription from a specialist, your pharmacist will cross-check it with your regular medications to make sure it is safe for you to take.
  3. Learn as much as possible about the medications you are taking. Read the information that the pharmacist gives you, and talk to him or her. If you have any questions, ask. Pharmacists are a wealth of information!
  4. Keep a list, keep it current, and carry it with you. When you see any of your providers, review that list. Let your loved ones know about your list and where you keep it. That way, if you have a medical emergency, you or your loved ones can quickly share that list with medical providers.
  5. Don’t forget about vitamins and supplements. Add those to your list and share with your primary care provider and your pharmacist. Sometimes vitamins and supplements can interfere with your prescriptions.
  6. Follow directions closely. The directions can be found on the prescription container and sometimes the handouts from the pharmacy. Be sure to clarify with your pharmacist how many times per day and what time of the day to take, and if you need to take with food or on an empty stomach.
  7. Monitor any side effects you may be having. Write them down in a notebook, including their time, duration, and quality. If they disrupt your daily activities, or if you feel like your condition is getting worse instead of better, call your pharmacist or provider to discuss right away.
  8. Use assistive devices to keep you on schedule. Use a pill planner to remind you of how many times per day and when to take each medication. Some planners have alarms or even give voice alerts. Some will contact a loved one when a dose is missed. These devices are a great way to manage multiple medications at multiple times throughout the day.
  9. Ask for a medication review with your pharmacist. If you are in a Medicare drug plan and have multiple chronic diseases, you can have a free comprehensive review of all your medications. Schedule this review before your yearly medical exam with your primary care provider so that you can review the report and action plan together.
  10. Review your list of medications at your yearly physical with your primary care provider. If you do not have a Medicare drug plan, you can still complete this review with your regular pharmacist and with your primary care provider at your annual exam.

Polypharmacy can not only be expensive, but more importantly can cause serious health concerns. Use these ten tips to manage your medications and stay healthy!


United States Census Bureau. (2014). The baby boom cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060. Retrieved from: https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1141.pdf


Learn more about Carrie’s publication’s CNA: Nursing Assistant Certification Textbooks and Workbooks.

Adopters of her publications are able to receive consulting work to adapt the book’s curriculum and also presentations on the following topics:

  • What are the determinants of good health?
  • Health Literacy…how to better understand the language of health care to navigate the health care system effectively.
  • Does nutrition and physical activity play a large role in how we age?
  • Managing medications, traditional vs. alternative.
  • How to support an older adult who wants to “age in place” and what that means.
  • How to know when an older adult needs extra services and what those are. Skilled care facility vs. assisted living facility.
  • How to adapt caregiving to the “silver tsunami” who have higher expectations of care and are more informed on their health care options than ever before.
  • Why is there a current caregiver crisis in the U.S.?

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