Older Adult Medication Safety
Do you think of the poison center as just a resource for parents of little kids? Think again! We are a resource for older adults too!
Even as adults, we can easily make mistakes. The Poison Center wants to provide you with tips that will help prevent those mistakes from happening, but in case they do, we are here to help 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
By calling the Washington Poison Center, you receive free and confidential health treatment advice from nurses and pharmacists with special training in poison information. We can answer a wide variety of questions and advise you on many types of exposures, so program our phone number in your cellphone and keep it near your home phone: 1-800-222-1222.
For more poison prevention tips specifically for older adults, check out the resources at the bottom of this page!
From 2010-2014, 50% of the calls related to older adults that the Poison Center received were due to unintentional medication mistakes. The most common mistakes were:
- Taking medication twice
- Taking the wrong medication
- Taking the incorrect dose
- Using the incorrect dosing route
- Taking someone else’s medication
- Taking medication too close together
Mistakes happen, but do not feel ashamed. The Poison Center can help! Follow these steps below to prevent mistakes!
Establish a Routine, and Stick to it! The best way to prevent mistakes is to create a medication management routine. Whether you use a weekly pill organizer or medications directly from their bottles, establish a way of knowing you have taken your doses. Keep a calendar like this on the refrigerator, or near where you take your medications, and check off your medications as you take them. Make sure to always turn on the lights and put on your glasses.
Know What You’re Taking. If you store each day’s medicines together in a pill organizer, it is important that you are still able to identify each pill and understand why you are taking it. No matter how you organize them, keep an updated list. Have this list available in your home and take it with you to all medical appointments and anytime you travel. Here is a sample that can fit into your wallet.
Call Before You Poison Yourself. Did you forget if you took your morning medication already? Not sure if it is safe to take another? The medical specialists at the Poison Center can help you review your medications and determine the safest course of action. Never assume you can take two of a medication. It is always safer to ask an expert first because there are many different formulations and strengths.
You can also call if you are considering taking a new over-the-counter medicine. Our specialist can tell you if the medicine will have harmful interactions with the medications you are already taking.
Add Your Own Labeling. Some items from your medicine cabinet look alike. For example, eardrops and eye drops. Both come in bottles the same size and shape that often have very small print. Using your eye drops in your ears isn’t harmful, but using your ear drops in your eyes can be very damaging. Adding your own labeling may help distinguish the product: add a sticker with “eye” or “ear” in larger print; use a Sharpie to make the caps different colors.
Are you a Grandparent?
Children are the most common victims of poisonings. In order to keep them safe, here are a few tips:
· Keep your medicine out of reach or in child-resistant containers. This is important when kids come visit you and when you visit them.
· Purchase a lockbox at your nearest store to lock up all of your medications
· Children like to mimic adult behaviors, including taking medicine. If possible, take your medicine somewhere where children will not see you.
· Store household products (cleaners, detergents, etc.) separate from food items and out of reach of children. Consider putting Mr. Yuk stickers on
dangerous products. You can get Mr. Yuk stickers by calling the Washington Poison Center and asking for a Yuk Pack.
· Leave household products in their original containers with their original labels. If you choose to put things in new containers, make sure they are
· Dispose of your unused medications at your nearest take back location. You can find your nearest drop box site at a Take Back Your Medssite near you.
Are you helping care for an older adult or work for an organization that works with older adults?
We have information for you too. Check out these resources: a presentation designed specifically to help seniors that you can present and a brochure with some quick tips for caregivers. Washington Poison Center health educators are also available to present this information to community groups, senior centers, retirement living communities, and service providers. Please email our Health Educator and Outreach Specialists to schedule a presentation.
Brochure for Caregivers — A brochure especially for older adult caregivers. It has important information on how the Washington Poison Center can help you manage an older adult’s medication and other poison prevention tips.
Poison Prevention Presentation Materials — A pre-made PowerPoint presentation for older adults. Great for caregivers working with support groups, senior living facilities, or at senior centers, it provides information on the most common poisonings in older adults and how to prevent them.
Brochure for Older Adults — A guide with medication management tips, household poison prevention ideas, and ways to protect the children in your life.
Medication Calendar — Unintentionally taking medication twice is one of the number one reasons older adults call us for advice. Establishing a routine and using a calendar to check-off when a dose was taken can help prevent medication incidents.
Wallet Medication List — Having an updated list of medications helps health professionals give the best treatments and advice. This list gives space for you to write in medications and folds up to fit in a wallet. It’s great to keep on your person in case of emergencies!