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Transition Danger: When Seniors Are at Risk of Medication Problems (Canada)

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It’s ironic: Seniors can be the most vulnerable to medication errors when they are unwell such as during the times they are being treated for illnesses or surgeries, and recovering from them.

Transition times—such as when older adults are hospitalized and when they are released—could be among the most dangerous times for a senior, according to Dr. John Sloan, Geriatrics Home Care Physician and Senior Academic Physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia.

Potentially dangerous transition points for older adults may include:

  • Hospital to home—Doctors often change dosages and add or cancel medications after an illness or surgery. These changes could be confusing for your senior who already may be weak from a hospitalization.

  • Rehabilitation to home—If your parent has been in a rehabilitation facility, he or she likely has had assistance managing medications. Consider in-home care assistance for continued help managing medications when it’s time for your loved one to go home.

“It’s very important for caregivers to be engaged with older adults—or for older adults to be engaged with their doctors—to help make sure problems don’t occur. It can be common for medication errors to occur at transition times such as these,” Dr. Sloan said.

Medication management is an important component of a family caregiver’s assessment of the amount of care needed when a senior loved one is making a transition.

Tips to Help Avoid Potential Transition Point Medication Dangers

There are several ways to help seniors stay on track with their medicines during transition times:

  1. Examine all current medicines to make sure they have not expired or are due for refill. Make sure to get refills if it’s time.

  2. Prepare a list of all medications including the new ones. Write down the name of the medication, the dosage, the prescribing doctor, the directions and the pharmacy. If it’s not already being done, make sure to get all prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy.

  3. Getting to the pharmacy might be difficult during the first few days or weeks after your loved one has returned home from the hospital. If possible, arrange for the pharmacy to deliver the medications.

  4. Pay special attention to dosing directions including whether the medication should be taken with food or on an empty stomach, the suggested methods to help reduce potential side effects such as nausea, dry mouth, constipation, etc., and if it should be taken in the morning or at night.

  5. For more information, visit You also may want to consider ways to help balance independence and safety for your loved one.

Last revised: February 10, 2016

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