Understanding Your Medications: What to Ask Your Provider

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July 15, 2023

As we get older, our healthcare needs evolve, and senior medication management becomes more and more important. Seniors often have multiple coexisting senior conditions and are prescribed multiple medications, which can become overwhelming and confusing to keep track of. To ensure that medications are used safely and effectively, seniors must understand what they are taking, why they are taking it, and how to properly take it. Thankfully, senior primary care physicians are equipped with the knowledge to help seniors navigate their medication questions and concerns. 

The Significance of Understanding Medications for Seniors

Understanding the significant effects medications can have is crucial for seniors to understand to ensure their safety, optimize treatment effectiveness, and maintain overall well-being. If you are a senior who takes medication, you should care about understanding the medication for these reasons:

  • Age-related concerns and medication effectiveness: When we age, our bodies undergo changes that can impact how various medications are metabolized, absorbed, and eliminated. Some common changes that impact medication effectiveness include but are not limited to reduced liver and kidney function, alterations in body composition, and decreased production of certain enzymes [1]. 
  • Increased risk of adverse drug reactions: Seniors are more vulnerable to experiencing adverse medication reactions due to both age-related changes and interactions with other medications. Since seniors are more likely to take multiple medications as treatment for co-existing health conditions, they face a higher risk of complications from drug interactions. These adverse reactions can be quite serious, sometimes leading to hospitalizations, functional decline, and increased mortality rates [2].

Medication Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Primary care providers play a critical role in senior medication management. They possess the expertise and knowledge to navigate the complexities of senior healthcare, including the intricacies of medication regimens. You should feel inclined to utilize them as a resource for answers to your medication questions. Use the following medication questions for seniors as a guide for what you should ask your primary care provider: 

  • “What is the purpose and benefit of this medication?”
    When discussing medications with your primary care provider, make sure to ask how each medication specifically helps manage your health conditions. Understanding the intended purpose and benefits of each medication will give you valuable insight into how they contribute to your treatment plan. Inquiring about the potential benefits or risks associated with the medication will help you weigh the pros and cons of the medication. 
  • “What are the potential side effects and adverse reactions?”
    It is important to be proactive in asking your primary care provider about the possible side effects of medications and how they may take effect in your age group. Seniors can have different and more extreme reactions to medications compared to younger individuals, and becoming aware of this will help you monitor your body’s response to the treatment. If you experience any concerning side effects, immediately report them to your primary care provider. Communication is key and ensures assessment and appropriate adjustments to your medication regimen if necessary. 
  • “Can you explain the dosage and administration instructions for this medication?”
    One of the reasons why people misuse medications is because dosage and administration instructions were not made clear from the start. To ensure the safe and effective use of medications, seek clarifications on the safe dosage and any adjustments specific to your age. Dosage requirements may vary for seniors because of age-related factors, like changes in kidney or liver function [3]. It is essential to know if medication should be taken with or without food, and at what time of the day it should be taken. Clear instructions will help you optimize the medication’s effectiveness and minimize the risks of adverse reactions. It is recommended you take notes on your doctor’s instructions while speaking to them! 
  • “What are the drug interactions and potential conflicts?”
    Inform your primary care provider about all medications, supplements, and over-the-counter drugs you are taking. Yes, this includes allergy medications, ibuprofen, and vitamins. By sharing this information, you help enable your primary care provider to better assess potential interactions or conflicts between other medications [4]. 
  • “What is the duration of treatment? The follow-up plan?”
    Understanding the duration of medication use is essential for having a clear expectation of your regimen. Inquire about whether the medication is intended for long-term or short-term treatment. And, ask if there are any necessary monitoring or follow-up appointments related to medication management. Regular check-ins help ensure that your treatment stays effective and aligned with your evolving health concerns. 

Additional Tips and Resources for Medication Information for Seniors

  • Store and organize your medications safely.
    Using pill organizers, separating medications by time or day, and/or storing medications in a cool, dry place are all good practices when managing multiple medications. Proper storage practices contribute to the effectiveness of the medication and reduce the risk of accidental misuse [5]. 
  • Utilize reminder tools to help with time-sensitive medications.
    Various tools out there are designed to keep you on track with taking your medications at the correct time, such as pill reminder apps, electronic timers, or medication reminder services. These tools can help ensure timely and accurate intake of medications. Incorporating technology into senior medication management helps promote adherence and reduce the likelihood of missed doses. 
  • Keep a medication journal.
    Maintaining a medication journal can be a helpful tool for seniors to track their medications and stay organized. Create a simple notebook or use a smartphone app specifically designed for medication tracking. In your journal, record the names of your medications, dosages, and specific instructions for each. Here, you can note any side effects or changes in symptoms that you observe while taking the medications. This journal can be used as a helpful reference during doctor’s appointments, allowing you to provide detailed information about your medication regimen. It also helps you stay on top of your medications, ensuring you take them as prescribed and promoting better medication adherence.

In conclusion, asking the essential questions and utilizing additional resources for medication information helps seniors to actively participate in their medication management, enhance their understanding of regimens, and optimize their overall health and well-being.