Authored by Sara Hoen

Managing medications and polypharmacy: Tips for safer medication use in aging adults

September 26, 2023 | Family MedicineInternal MedicinePharmacy

Managing medications and polypharmacy in aging adults. Discover tips for safer medication use, deprescribing, & reducing the risks of adverse effects.

Taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your overall health and well-being. As you age, it’s likely you’ll need to take more medications to manage different health conditions. A 2019 study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 70% of adults ages 40-79 used at least one prescription drug in the last 30 days, and at least 20% used more than 5 prescription drugs.

The act of using multiple prescription medications to manage one or several health conditions is called polypharmacy. Older adults with multiple chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, depression, diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, often require several forms of medication.

Polypharmacy can be dangerous if medications aren’t thoroughly monitored. According to the National Institute on Aging, “inappropriate polypharmacy” increases a patient’s likelihood of developing dangerous side effects, such as physical injuries and chronic health conditions due to cognitive impairment or harmful drug/disease interactions.

If you are currently taking more than one prescription, consider these tips to help you manage multiple medications safely and avoid further health issues.

Tip 1: Ask a lot of questions and follow instructions

Ask your provider for clear instructions for taking your new medication. You should also ask if this prescription will interact with any current medications you’re taking. Be transparent with your provider and tell them about any side effects you are worried about.

Once you have all your questions answered, it’s important to take your medication exactly as prescribed. For example, you should continue the full treatment course of antibiotics even if you start feeling better to avoid a relapse of infection or antibiotic resistance. Never take any medications that haven’t been prescribed to you. Misuse of medication, such as missing doses or taking too many, can result in worsening of symptoms, addictions, or even fatal consequences.

Tip 2: Keep track of prescriptions

If you tend to be forgetful about taking your medication– all hope is not lost. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself organized. First, it’s helpful to keep an updated list of all the medications you’re taking. The list should include:

  • Prescription name (generic and brand name)
  • Dosage and frequency of dosage
  • Condition being treated
  • Where and how to refill the prescription

Next, you can decide the best reminder method to take your medication. You can research different types of mobile apps, alarms, and prescription organizers to help you keep track of all your medications. Some pharmacies, including the Revere Health Pharmacy, will send out medication refill reminders to help you stay compliant.

Tip 3: Monitor your side-effects

Prescription side effects shouldn’t add additional complications or decrease your quality of life. If you’re experiencing more dizziness, drowsiness, forgetfulness, and/or lack of coordination, it may be time to visit with your provider to see if there is a possible interaction happening.

Certain over-the-counter medications, nutritional supplements, foods, and drinks can disrupt your medication’s effectiveness and lead to undesirable side-effects. For instance, the FDA warns that grapefruit juice has been linked to harmful interactions with some statin drugs to lower cholesterol, some drugs that treat high-blood pressure, some anti-anxiety drugs, some antihistamines, and some corticosteroids that treat Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

As always, remember to keep a thorough, up-to-date list of all your prescribed medications when you visit with your provider. Talk to your provider or pharmacist about managing your side-effects or potentially switching to an alternate form of medication.

Tip 4: Store your medications properly

Reading medication labels carefully can help you understand how to store your medicine. Some medications can be sensitive to light, extreme temperatures, and humidity, so keeping them in warm places like your bathroom or kitchen might reduce their effectiveness. Storing your prescriptions in a cool, dry, cabinet is often the best option, unless otherwise specified by the label.

Additionally, always check the expiration date on your medication label. If your medication has expired, it may not provide any benefit to your condition. You may also experience dangerous side-effects if the expired medication has developed toxic compounds.

Lastly, keep your medication stored in a secure location. Accidental poisonings are common, but they can be avoided if medications are locked in high cabinets away from the reach of curious children and pets.

The Revere Health Pharmacy provides all the prescription and patient-care services you need to manage your medications in one place. It’s recommended to have one pharmacy for all your medication needs so you can avoid duplicative prescriptions and ensure a coordinated experience. If you are looking for a helpful medication management tool, check out the pharmacy’s mobile app to help you manage your entire family’s prescriptions, communicate with the pharmacy via secure messages, order refills, set medication reminders, and find pharmacy location information.

Zahra Nielsen


Zahra Nielsen

Zahra Nielsen currently serves as Revere Health’s Community Relations Specialist. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science from Utah Valley University with the intention of working with at-risk communities, but she has since found a love for community engagement, volunteerism, and outreach. Since graduating, her career has taken her to non-profit organizations across the country. From Washington D.C, New York, and Salt Lake City, she has had the opportunity to work with notable organizations such as the National Council for Adoption, Volunteers of America, and United Way. After years of working in different areas of community engagement, Zahra has found her niche in writing. She hopes to pursue this creative form of outreach as a way of inspiring community members to be mindful of their well-being and the well-being of others. In her free time, Zahra likes to practice and teach yoga. She also enjoys live theatre, listening to music, and watching endless hours of quirky movies and TV shows with her husband.

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.