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Mixing Medications

How to Avoid Dangerous Combinations

It’s no secret that seniors are often taking more than one prescription medication. As we age, we are more likely to develop chronic illnesses – and frequently need medication to lead healthy and active lives. However, medications in older adults come with safety concerns, especially when multiple prescriptions are involved. There are more chances for overdoses, under-doses and dangerous side effects.

I often see firsthand how patients can be overwhelmed by the directions from multiple prescriptions. A big mistake seniors can make is to give in to this confusion, not ask questions and try to figure it out on their own. Your doctor and pharmacist should guide older adults in the process of starting a new medication and make sure they understand how to take it correctly and safely. I also think it’s important for seniors to understand why they are taking a prescription medication, which will ultimately motivate them to take it correctly and remember how to do so.

After your doctor explains why you need a prescription medication, ask specific questions including:

  • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
  • What side effects might I expect? Should I report them?
  • Can this medicine interact with other prescription and over-the-counter medicines -- including herbal and dietary supplements -- that I am taking now?

Don’t be afraid to bring a friend or family member to a doctor’s appointment if you are concerned about forgetting the answers to these types of questions. At Hebrew SeniorLife, we encourage seniors to take control of their medical care and become “CEO of their health.” Managing medications is an important part of this job.

Click here for a complete list of questions to ask your doctor and pharmacist before beginning a new medication.

Dr. Sharon K. Inouye, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Aging Brain Center at Hebrew SeniorLife, recently spoke to the Boston Globe about the dangers of mixing medications. Read the article here.   

Jennifer Rhodes-Kropf, M.D.'s picture

About the Blogger


Dr. Rhodes-Kropf, is a staff geriatrician at HRC. She received her medical degree from the University of North Carolina and completed her internal medicine internship at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and her residency in internal medicine at Cornell University/New York Presbyterian Medical Center. Dr. Rhodes-Kropf, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, completed a geriatrics fellowship at Mount Sinai Hospital.

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