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Caregiver Training Blog

What Caregivers Need to Know About Over The Counter Medications

One out of every 25 adults is in danger of having a negative reaction to drug combinations, according to a report from theNew York Times. Contrary to popular misconception, the threat isn't limited to prescription drugs. In fact, over the counter medications (OTC) represent an equal yet largely unknown threat. Let's take a closer look at the topic of drug safety for seniors, along with what caregivers need to know to keep the seniors in their care safe. 
OTC meds

Prescription plus OTC meds can add up to a dangerous equation.

The 411 on OTC Medications

According to New York University Langone Medical Center internist and assistant professor of medicine Michael H. Perskin, MD., "The average number of prescription medications taken by people over 65 is five or six. As new medicines are added to the mix, the chance of adverse drug interactions grows exponentially. 

But it's not just drug interactions which constitute a problem. Antihistamines, pain relievers, acid suppressants, laxatives, and even eye drops can lead to negative outcomes, ranging from urinary retention to sedation and increased risk of falls. 

Tips for Keeping Your Aging Loved One Safe

Maintain an up-to-date list of all drugs and doses, including both prescription and OTC meds. If your doctor prescribes a new medication, ask him to review the list for potential adverse drug combinations.

Your pharmacist is also an invaluable resource. If you are adding a new medication or your medication regimen has changed, be sure to ask about potential adverse interactions. One way to ensure he has access to all relevant information? Fill every prescription at the same pharmacy which will likely maintain a database of your loved one's medication.

Always follow dosing instructions, and make sure your aging loved one does the same. Reading the label can help you and your loved one make smart choices. For example, certain pain medications like Vicodin and Percocet contain acetaminophen, so while acetaminophen is generally considered safe, it must be taken into account when determining daily doses. 

If your aging loved one suffers from memory problems, this can further raise his risk of accidental overdose. Pill reminder systems can help seniors keep track of what to take and when. 

It's important to remember that the fact that OTC meds don't require a prescription doesn't make them more safe than prescription alternatives. In fact, in some cases they're less safe purely because of this assumption. Ultimately, all drugs are drugs -- regardless of whether they're prescription or OTC -- and all information regarding dosage, ingredients, pre-existing conditions, side effects and drug interactions should be taken into account before use.

over the counter medications
When in doubt, ask your pharmacist.

For more useful information for caregiver of older adults and their loved ones on the dangers of OTC medications visit mmlearn.org.

If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.

mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs.family caregiver guide download