Seniors - Tips for Safe Medicine Use

If you are age 65 or older, you may take more medicines now than ever before. Two-thirds of adults age 65 and older use one or more medicines each day, and a quarter of them take three drugs each day. The more you know about your medicines and the more you communicate with your health professionals, the better your chances are for avoiding possible problems with medicines. Here are some tips for safe medicine use:

  • Learn about your medicines. Read medicine labels and package inserts. If you have difficulty reading the label, ask a friend, relative or pharmacist for help. If you have questions about the label directions or warnings, ask your doctor or other health care professional.

  • Talk to your health professionals about your medical conditions, medicines you take and health concerns. The more they know, the more they can help you.

  • Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take, including prescription and nonprescription medicines, as well as dietary supplements, vitamins and herbals. Also tell your doctor about any allergies you have (foods, other medicines, etc.).

  • Keep track of side effects and let your doctor know immediately about any unexpected symptoms or changes in the way you feel.

  • Keep a record of the medicines you are taking. If you are taking several different medicines, keeping a record of medication as you take it can help you use medicines properly and safely.

  • Use memory aids, such as a calendar or pill box, to help you remember what to take and when.

  • Ask your pharmacist about patient records. Many pharmacies now keep these records for you so that you'll be able to keep track of all medicines you are currently taking, as well as allergies and current medical conditions.

  • Make sure to go to all appointments for monitoring tests done by your doctor or at a laboratory.

  • Go through your medicine cabinet at least once a year to get rid of old or expired medicines. If small children or pets are in your home, it is best to throw away old medicines and dietary supplements in the toilet or sink rather than the trash can.

  • Have all your medicines reviewed by your doctor at least once a year. Don't forget to include any over-the-counter medicines you take, as well as vitamins, dietary supplements and herbals. Write them down so you won't forget to mention any.

  • Keep all medicines out of the sight and reach of children.

  • Questions? Ask a health professional. If you do not understand information on the medicine label, ask your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

For additional information about OTC and prescription drugs, please visit the following areas:

The above information was provided, in part, with the kind permission of the Council on Family Health (

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Last Editorial Review: 12/23/2002