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Taking Medication: Special Concerns in Older Adults

Tips For Medication Use By Older Adults

The more medications someone takes the greater the risk for a drug reaction, particularly with increasing age. Furthermore, it is not unusual for doctors to prescribe the same dose of a medication for both a 200-pound athlete and a 90-pound older adult with chronic illnesses. Weight and size do matter. Muscle (lean body) mass drops with aging as the body stores more fat cells. Body size, percent fat, and how lubed and primed the kidneys are can significantly affect dosing of popular drugs such as antibiotics (cephalosporins, penicillins, quinolones), heart drugs (digoxin, atenolol, ACE inhibitors), and even the household pain reliever acetaminophen. Taking medication comes down to a risk vs. benefit analysis and a few basic guidelines:

  • Always try available non-drug treatments such as dietary changes and exercise as your first approach to managing a medical condition.
  • Be certain your doctor periodically reevaluates all medications you take for possible dosage adjustments, drug-drug reactions, drug-disease side effects, and whether a drug can be safely discontinued.
  • Always ask if a drug can make you drowsy or dizzy and if there are ways to reduce those effects.
  • Tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medications you take as well as herbal remedies. These may interact with prescription medications or have side effects.
  • Each time you renew a prescription, be sure you receive the same generic product. Different formulations of a medication can actually contain up to 10 percent more or less of the active ingredient.
  • When you get a new prescription, clarify with your doctor how long you must use that medication and how it should be taken.
  • Use your pharmacist as a resource for reviewing all medications to check for interactions. This strategy is particularly useful if your doctor seems rushed when going over your medication.
  • Be prepared with the right tools for the job. Purchase a pill splitter if you take only half a pill, as long as your pharmacist says that drug can be split. A large magnifying glass can be useful for reading directions or warnings in small print. Many inexpensive pill bottle openers can help those who have difficulty opening child safety caps. In fact, if you tell your pharmacist you cannot open safety caps and you have no children prancing around your house, the pharmacist will use a cap that opens with less effort.
  • Consider buying one of many pill-dispensing gadgets to help you develop a system for properly taking all your medication. Check your local pharmacy or search the Web.
  • Consider signing up for one of many available Internet services that send medication-taking reminders. Reminders can be in the form of telephone calls, emails, or a beeper.
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 February 23, 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.