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Taking Medication: Special Concerns in Older Adults

Have you ever been concerned about relapse after missing a few doses of antibiotic pills? Do medications tie knots in your stomach and make eating a chore? Did you ever forget if you’ve already taken a dose of medication? Then perhaps you have some idea of the medication-taking hardships older adults face every day.

Many older adults must take several medications each day as they strive to keep their health in balance and remain independent. As many as 10 percent of people over age 65 take five or more prescription drugs, requiring them to juggle potentially dozens of pills every day. Painful arthritis may make opening a pill bottle seem as difficult as crushing a stone. Failing vision might prevent some older adults from reading key warning labels or instructions.

While a medication organizer, pill bottle opener or magnifying glass can help to overcome some medication-taking obstacles, we cannot prevent the normal aging process. “Both the liver’s ability to inactivate drugs and the kidney’s ability to [get rid of] drugs slow with age,” according to Dr. Mark H. Beers, editor in chief of The Merck Manuals and author of the widely used “Beers’ criteria for inappropriate medication use by the elderly.” A doctor must lower the dosage of certain drugs to prevent overmedicating and avoid causing side effects, Beers warns.

Several key factors put older adults at greater risk for reactions to medication such as falls, confusion or drowsiness, and medication-related hospital admissions. Both you and your doctor must work together to minimize potential pill-related pitfalls.

Taking Medication: Special Concerns in Older Adults

Joel Cohen, MD

APA Reference
Cohen, J. (2020). Taking Medication: Special Concerns in Older Adults. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.