Medication errors are implicated in almost 22 per cent of all unplanned hospital admissions in Australia each year, making medication management critical for older Australians.
A study overseen by the National Prescribing Service in 2012 indicated that almost half of Australians aged 50 plus take at least five drugs or supplements on a typical day, with one third of women over 75 years of age taking 10 or more different medications per day.
This many medications can be a major source of stress for both older Australians and the carers who assist in ensuring that the right medications are taken in the prescribed amounts, at the correct times each day.
As we get older, vision problems, cognitive impairment and confusion can make it difficult to remember which medications to take and when. This can affect all of us, and it is important that strategies are used in order to avoid being one of these hospital statistics. These six tips can help you manage your medication in a safe and effective manner:
1. The safest way to manage medications is to ask your pharmacist to provide the medications in a blister pack rather than individual bottles and packaging. To avoid errors, the pack provides medications in pockets, which clearly indicate the day and the times per day, it should be taken.
2. If blister packs are not possible, it is critical to get organised. Buying a pillbox or medication organiser from the chemist can assist. If there is more than one person in the home, don’t store everyone’s medication in the same place. Have separate storage places to reduce the chance of taking someone else’s medications. Some people put their daytime medications in a different coloured box to their nighttime medications.
3. Missed and doubled doses are the cause of most medication errors. It is important that you create a system which helps you take the right medications at the right time each day. Some people use calendars and mark off when they have taken medications, others set alarms or have written reminders around the house. It can also help to include taking medication in your daily routine (i.e. before you brush your teeth, etc.). Additionally, there is great technology which you can program to remind you to take medications. Personal alarm technology now has functionality to program up to six medication reminders per day. There are smartphone and tablet apps which can assist with reminders. Call Lifelink on 1300 851 771 for more information on medication reminders or mobile phone apps.
4. Keep a list of your current medications. Whether you trust your memory or not, keeping a list of your medications, including non-prescription medications, vitamins and supplements is an effective tool. Next to each medication, note the name, date started, the doctor or health professional who prescribed the medication, dosage and any specific instructions given. It’s also worthwhile including any allergies of which you are aware. It is ideal to keep this in your purse or wallet and keep it up to date. This can be used at doctors’ appointments, hospital stays or any other interaction you may have with health professionals.
5. It is important to keep track of side effects and let your doctor know immediately about any unexpected symptoms or changes in the way you feel. Examples include dizziness and drowsiness which could lead to a fall; stomach upset, diarrhoea or constipation; blurred vision; dry mouth; and fatigue/lack of energy. Know what to expect, how long the side effects may last, what to do when they occur, and when to contact your doctor.
6. And then there are the obvious dos and don’ts. Don’t take another person’s medications, don’t take expired medications, don’t skip doses and do store medications as directed. It is also really important, at least once a year, to take all your medications to the doctor to review. This includes any vitamins, dietary supplements and herbals.
Make sure your pharmacist and doctors’ phone numbers are handy. One mistake could cost you a hospital visit, so if you any questions at all, or are concerned; it is worth the phone call.