By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: I cannot believe how many pills my 86 year-old father takes every day. There has to be something I can do to improve the situation. Charlene in Arizona, 57

ANSWER: It's true that a staggering percentage of our elderly population takes a huge amount of medication. This can have a disastrous effect on their mental and physical well-being. As soon as you assume a caregiving role, you need to immediately take a careful inventory of your elder's medications. Note the following:

  1. What's prescribed?
  2. Who prescribed it?
  3. Amount prescribed?
  4. What's the dosage?
  5. Why is it taken?
  6. How often is it taken?
  7. When is it supposed to be taken?
  8. Who pours the medications?
  9. Who ensures the stock of medications isn't depleted?
  10. What is being taken over-the-counter?
  11. Does the doctor know about all of the over-the-counter medication?
  12. What vitamins are being taken?
  13. Are any medications contra-indicated?
  14. Does each doctor know about all of the medications being taken?
  15. Bring this information to your elder's doctor and thoroughly discuss all prescriptions, vitamins, and over-the-counter items. Ask the doctor if any of the medications are contra-indicated, what the side effects are, and if some medications could be eliminated or reduced. Some medication might be able to be weaned instead of eliminated entirely. Finally, ask if any of your elder's medication is addictive. Moving forward, buy all of your elder's meds and over-the-counter drugs from one main pharmacy. This will help with familiarity and convenience. A pharmacist who knows your elder's history can also help avoid contra-indicated prescriptions.

    Be sure your elder has a user-friendly medication box (the bigger the better so they don't get their fingers stuck or find it difficult and confusing to use). Add large labels to the bottles and label them with your own system to keep dosage times in order. You can use whatever works for you, just be consistent. I've seen husbands take their wives' medication and vice versa. This is what you're trying to avoid.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.