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Get a brown-bag checkup
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An ounce of prevention

The medication years
The medication years

Studies show that seniors take more medications than any other age group. The average 75-year-old uses five prescription drugs, according to a report from the Merck Institute of Aging & Health. And older adults often use more over-the-counter and herbal products as well.

If you’re like most older adults, you take many different medicines. Managing them all is a daunting and potentially dangerous task. To be sure all these drugs are working together safely, consider a brown-bag checkup. It’s easy to do. First, make an appointment with your primary care doctor for a medication review. Then, put all your prescription medications and over-the-counter products in a bag and bring them into your doctor’s office. Don’t forget herbs, vitamins, dietary supplements and topical treatments such as ointments and creams. The idea is to have your physician see firsthand everything you take. He or she may not be aware of all the medications ordered for you by other healthcare providers. And research shows that when patients try to make a list of their medications, they usually leave products out. Your provider can check your bagful of medications for potential problems such as:

  • Dangerous interactions. Drug interactions occur when one drug changes the effectiveness of another drug. Take warfarin (Coumadin), for example. Many people take this common blood thinner. But you shouldn’t take it with aspirin, ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs because it increases your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Warfarin also interacts with the antibiotic Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole), which can cause severe bleeding as well. Even herbal supplements such as Ginkgo biloba, garlic, ginger and ginseng can be dangerous when taken with warfarin.
  • Double dosing. You may be taking the same drug in two different products. For example, a headache remedy and a cold-symptom reliever may both contain acetaminophen. Taking too much of this pain reliever raises risk of liver damage.
  • Unnecessary medications. You may be taking medicines you don’t need or continue to take drugs for problems you no longer have.

An ounce of prevention

During a brown-bag checkup, your provider can also be sure you understand how to take your medication and review any special precautions you must heed. He or she can order tests to be sure your dosages are correct, too. Plan a brown-bag checkup at least once a year. Schedule a medication review in advance so your provider allots enough time for the visit. Be prepared to ask any questions you have about your medications. In fact, write them down before your visit so you don’t forget them once you’re in the office.