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Be Your Own Advocate for Medication Safety

An older woman gestures as she speaks with a doctor in his exam room.

Research shows that three out of five older adults make mistakes or do not use the medications exactly as their prescriber told them to. This can put you at increased risk for problems related to medication misuse, such as falls, depression, confusion, and malnutrition. Older adults need be active participants in their health care. You should work closely with your primary doctor, pharmacist, and other health care providers to stay healthy and active and make sure that you are taking the right medications in the safest and most responsible way.

Disclaimer: The information on this page is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or instruction from a health care professional. Always take medication as prescribed or according to manufacturer's instructions. Consult with your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care provider before changing your medication use.

Be your own health advocate

Know Your Medications

Take the time to become familiar with the medications you take. Ask questions and be sure you understand what each medication does and how it can affect you.

  • Make a list of the medications you take. Include both prescription and non-prescription medications. Take this list with you to all medical appointments and procedures.
  • Go over your list of medications with your primary doctor, pharmacist, or other health care provider at least once a year. Ask if all the medications you are taking are still necessary or if there are any you can or should stop taking.
  • If you see more than one health care provider who is prescribing medication for you, review your list with them. Don’t assume they know what other providers have given you.
  • Pay attention to new symptoms or changes in how you feel. Ask your primary doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional if these changes could be due to a new medication or a change in dose or frequency.
  • If you have trouble hearing or understanding your doctor or other health care provider, bring a trusted friend or family member with you to appointments to take notes. If that's not possible, ask the provider if it would be okay for you to record your conversation with a tape recorder or cell phone.
  • If possible, fill all your prescriptions at a single pharmacy. Your pharmacist will be able to spot potential drug interactions if they have the complete list.
  • If you’ve been taking a medication (prescription or non-prescription) for a long time, ask your health care professional if it is still appropriate for you given your current age and physical condition.

Questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist

When your health care professional prescribes a new medication or changes your dosage, silence is not golden. Make sure you understand why the doctor is prescribing it, how to take it properly, and how it might affect you.

Ask about:

  • Purpose - What is this medication supposed to do? How will I know if it’s working? Will I need regular tests to monitor my treatment?
  • Options - Can this medication replace another medicine I am taking? Is there another way to treat this condition or symptom without medication?
  • Duration - How long will I take this medication ? Can I stop once I feel better?
  • Directions - What does it mean to take this medication... On an empty stomach? With food or meals? With plenty of water? Two/three/four times a day? As needed?
  • Side effects - What symptoms or side effects can I expect with this medication ? Which ones should I be the most concerned about?
  • Reactions - Can this medication react with food or drink, over-the-counter medicines, other prescriptions or herbal or vitamin supplements?
  • Accidents - What will happen if I miss a dose or accidentally take too much of this medication?
  • Addiction - Can I become addicted to this medication? Should I be concerned about other people having access to this medication?
  • Ownership - Are there any legal or safety issues I should consider about buying and owning this medication?