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Getting Smarter About Medication Management

This Thanksgiving, put an open discussion about helping seniors better manage their prescription drugs on the menu.

The statistics are sobering: In the US, three-fourths of people over 45 take prescription drugs, with an average of four medications each day, making managing prescription drugs a huge concern. Containing their costs is huge, too—next year, annual per person drug costs for seniors is projected to reach $2,810, an increase of 133 percent since 2000. The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the US Administration on Aging, in partnership with Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, announced the launch of this year’s “Home for the Holidays” campaign to assist older adults and their caregivers in making smart, economical health care choices and stressing the importance of knowing which drugs to take and the need for compliance. The Eldercare Locator specifically focuses the campaign during the holiday season so that families gathering together can discuss the issue, evaluate the current situation, and implement a management plan that will help older adults start off the New Year by making the right health care choices. It is also perfectly timed with the open window for Medicare enrollment, especially for reviewing plans offered in Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan.

“Each day, many older Americans open up their medicine cabinets and find them filled with countless numbers of bottles. The use of multiple medications may increase the likelihood of medication misuse,” said Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “There are some simple steps older adults can take to ensure that they are taking their medicines correctly and are getting the best value. The intention of our holiday campaign is to provide the aging population and caregivers with tools to remove the stress from the medicine management process.”

Eldercare Locator’s new brochure, Prescription Drug Options for Older Adults: Managing Your Medicines provides tips on how to more actively participate in health care decisions by managing prescription drugs as well as the drug costs for seniors, including suggesting resources for creating a medicine record, talking to doctors about medicines and cost-saving steps such as generic drugs and competitive pharmacy pricing.

“Family gatherings during the holidays are great opportunities for conversations about a loved one’s wellbeing, including medicine management and costs,” said Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a). “During tough economic times, prescription medicine management is a particularly serious issue because it can affect your health and your wallet. Understanding the options available can help older adults and their family members better manage health conditions, reduce the chance of harmful drug interactions and get the best value for their medicines.” Key points on managing prescription drugs and the drug costs for seniors addressed in the brochure include:

  • Keep track of all medications to reduce your risk of harmful drug interactions. Make your a medicine record with pertinent info about each prescription and update it whenever you start or stop a drug. Include the following:
    • Name of the medicine
    • What it is for
    • Name of the doctor who prescribed it
    • How and when to take
    • How much to take (dosage)
    • Color/shape of the medicine
    • Any side effects or warnings
  • Get in the habit of asking your doctor questions about your medicines each time you get a new prescription. If you’ve been given prescriptions by more than one doctor, always take your medicine record with you and let each doctor know about all the medications you are currently taking. Be sure to ask these questions at each doctor visit:
    • Why do I take this prescription?
    • Is it for long- or short-term use?
    • How do I take this medicine (how often, with/without food)?
    • What are its side effects? What should I do if they occur?
    • Can I substitute a non-drug alternative or a generic?
    • Does it duplicate any of the other prescriptions I am taking?
    • What should I do if I miss a dose?
    • If I cut a pill in half, will it be ineffective?
    • Does this drug interact with any of the other prescriptions I take?
    • How important is this prescription given my finances and overall health?
    • Does my health or age make this drug unsafe for me?
  • Evaluate your prescription drug plan and compare it with your needs every year. There can be major changes in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries each year that will affect what benefits are being offered and what drugs are covered (and at what prices).
  • Look into your medicine choices yourself. Your doctors do not know what prescriptions are covered by your insurance company. Ask your insurance company for a copy of your drug plan “formulary,” the list of all medicines covered by your insurance company (you may be able to download it online) and bring it to your doctors’ appointments. Together, you can evaluate the choice of medicines that will be most effective.
  • Consider a generic. Lower cost generic copies of brand-name medicines are available after the original drug patents have expired. Generics are less expensive because the research and testing has already been done by the original manufacturer. Makers of generic drugs cannot copy the exact look of the original drug, so a generic may have a different appearance, but must have the same chemical make-up as the original.
  • Shop around. Consider all of your drug plan’s preferred pharmacies and compare prices. Ask about pharmacy discount cards and senior citizen discounts; ask your insurance company about online or mail-order pharmacies.

To help make the best choices about Part D of Medicare enrollment and make sure you can afford the drugs you need, investigate these resources: