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How to Keep Medication Side Effects from Jeopardizing a Senior's Independence

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January 21, 2016

Side effects from a medication can isolate older adults, potentially robbing them of their independence, noted Dr. Jane Potter, geriatrician and director of the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Ask the Doctor about Alternate Medications

Dr. Potter gave the example of a patient suffering from the side effect of diarrhea. If she had not reported the problem to Dr. Potter, she would have continued to be confined to her home. That’s why it’s important to let the doctor know of any symptoms that develop with new medications. In this case, there was an alternate medication that didn’t have diarrhea as a side effect. Soon, the senior was out and about again.

And that is the case at times; alternative medications can be prescribed that don’t carry the same potential reactions, Dr. Potter explained.

Be Aware of the Hazards of Sleep Aids

One potentially dangerous class of medications is sleeping pills. Dr. Potter described this scenario: A doctor might prescribe sleeping pills after the death of a spouse or loved one. Sleeping pills may be renewed several times—potentially too long. As a person’s body gets used to that dose, stronger dosages are often needed to help the individual fall asleep. As the dose goes up, so do the side effects such as day time sleepiness, dizziness and loss of balance.

Then, when someone stops taking the pills, there may be increased problems falling asleep. That can result in rebound insomnia, or the inability to get to sleep.

“What’s more, medications like sleeping pills can stay in the body not just during the night but for 24 hours, leading to the potential for gait problems, diarrhea, falling and confusion,” Dr. Potter said.

This roller coaster of potential symptoms could have debilitating consequences, jeopardizing a senior’s independence. To learn more about the potential for and solutions to help alleviate adverse drug problems, consult your senior loved one’s physician. Discover more about transition times that could put older adults at risk for medication mismanagement (TODO: link to story).

Help a Senior Stay on Track

Providing a way for an older adult to manage his or her medications, whether it’s a pill organization system, a medication tracker worksheet or a Home Instead® CAREGiver℠ to provide medication reminders, could enable seniors to remain and thrive in their home for as long as possible.

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