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9 Frequently Asked Questions for Pharmacists

October is American Pharmacists Month, a great time to recognize the role that pharmacists have in serving the health needs of seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 7 in 10 adults ages 40-79 use at least one prescription drug, and around 1 in 5 use at least five.

With all the medications available today, pharmacists are increasingly important to help older adults understand how to safely take medicines their doctor prescribes. Here are questions frequently answered by pharmacists about prescription medicines and over-the-counter medications.

  1. Why is a pharmacist important to my overall health?
    Pharmacists are well versed in pharmacology, which is the branch of medicine that focuses on the uses and effects of drugs. The profession understands the therapeutic role of drugs, drug side effects, and interactions with other drugs. Pharmacists can help monitor these factors and advise which foods and activities can affect a medication. Pharmacists can be a great resource. For example, instead of calling your doctor for a mild skin irritation, most pharmacists can make recommendations of over-the-counter (OTC) medications or topical creams to help heal the skin. Or a pharmacist can suggest which OTCs to take for a cold, headache, upset stomach and other types of nonserious conditions. Accessibility is so convenient now with pharmacists in grocery stores, drug stores and big retail stores.
  1. What if a medication makes me too sleepy?
    Some prescription and OTC medications can make you drowsy. This can lead to issues with balance. Dosing schedules are important when trying to avoid daytime drowsiness caused by certain medications. This is a particular problem with seniors because drowsiness can increase unstable walking and cause falls. Also, people need to be cautioned about driving while taking a medication that might make them drowsy. It is always best to check with your doctor or pharmacist before using any medication, especially when adding an OTC medication, which may not be part of your medical record.
  1. What are some medication side effects?
    There are medications that help memory in seniors, especially those with Alzheimer’s. However, there are medications that can instead cloud memory and interfere with and exacerbate memory issues. This is, of course, something to watch for in the elderly. Some medications like certain sleep aids can leave a person with a hazy feeling, which may make it more difficult to wake up and/or stand up. If this happens, a doctor may need to be consulted to consider reducing the medication’s dose, especially for those who are already at an increased risk for a fall.
  1. Why do some medications affect my bathroom habits?
    Seniors are often on diuretics, which is a type of medication that helps increase urine production. Diuretics are frequently prescribed for high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. A diuretic medication removes fluid from the body, which helps reduce blood pressure. However, since diuretics cause frequent urination, taking a diuretic can cause further isolation in the elderly, as they may decide to take the diuretic in the morning and then stay home to be close to the bathroom. Diarrhea is another common side effect of many medications. Antacids with magnesium, antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and chemotherapy medications are some of the most common medicines that induce loose, watery stools.
  1. Does it really matter what time of day you take medications?
    Yes, a dosing schedule is important. Every medication has a specific dosing schedule—once a day, three times a day, etc. You should try to take each medication at the prescribed time every day for the most beneficial effect of that medication.
  1. How can caregivers help manage medications?
    For the elderly opting to age in place or recovering at home from an illness or injury, it is of upmost importance that they follow the plan of care prescribed by their doctor. A Right at Home caregiver can help by reminding them of the medication schedule and giving other health reminders prescribed to them such as recovery exercises or dietary requirements. Some Right at Home offices can help with medication management including setup of medication pillboxes. The caregiver can observe the senior taking the medication and report to the family or document the occurrence, as well as observe and report any changes in condition to help avoid worsening conditions or symptoms.
  1. How long can medicine be used after the expiration date?
    There is some controversy when it comes to expiration dates, but in general, people need to be cognizant of the issue. Certain medications like insulin, nitroglycerin and liquid antibiotics are most sensitive to expiration dates. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist when there are questions about the potency and effectiveness of a medication. The elderly, especially, should be wary of taking a medication that expired years ago.
  1. How should medicines be stored?
    Keep medications in a safe place and out of the reach of children and pets. Some medications need to be refrigerated, but the majority do not, and can be kept in a dry place that’s not exposed to temperature extremes. Do not combine different medications into one container. Keep each medication in its own distinct bottle unless someone is managing the dispensing of medicines via cassettes or pillboxes. Being able to distinguish one medication from another gets harder with age.
  1. I’ve heard some foods interact with medications. Which ones do this?
    Eating grapefruit and foods with vitamin K, such as kale, spinach and other leafy green vegetables, cause the most common food-drug interactions. Grapefruit can slow the metabolism of some drugs, so it can increase the drug levels in your body. Since vitamin K helps the body with blood clotting, it can interfere with blood-thinning medications. A lot of people on blood thinners just don’t drink grapefruit juice anymore or they eat only small amounts of vitamin K-rich foods. To be safe with medications, you can always ask your pharmacist.

Right at Home’s professional in-home caregivers provide services that support both the physical and emotional health of senior clients. Our trained and screened caregivers understand the importance that everyday health reminders, including medication reminders, play in the health and well-being of seniors. Use our location finder to contact your local Right at Home and ask for a FREE in-home consultation.

This has been updated from an original article dated October 25, 2018.

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Right at Home offers in-home care to seniors and adults with disabilities who want to live independently. Most Right at Home offices are independently owned and operated, and directly employ and supervise all caregiving staff.
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