Holliston’s famous “Balancing Rock,” which George Washington and his entourage was unable to topple when passing through the town in 1789/Photo by Douglas Flynn

As the likelihood of illnesses and ailments increases as we age, older adults are more likely to require the use of a number of medications. They are also more likely to experience harmful side effects from those combinations of medications.

The American Geriatrics Society noted that one in three adults aged 65 and over has had one or more harmful reactions to a medication and that 28 percent of all hospitalizations among older adults were found to be drug related.

Keeping track of the multiple medications many older adults need to take and making sure they are being administered safely is one of the primary concerns of caregivers.

There are steps that caregivers can take to limit the chances of adverse complications from medications and help those medications work as designed to comfort and heal their loved ones.

  • Learn about the medications – Take time to talk to doctors and pharmacists to get the name of each drug, the generic equivalent if there is one, the dosage prescribed, potential interactions with other drugs, methods of taking the drug (with food or liquids? Can pills be chewed, crushed or mixed in food? Does it come in liquid form?) and possible side effects.
  • Keep a list of all medications – Keep track of all the various medications your loved one has been prescribed, and share that information with your doctors and pharmacists to avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions.
  • Follow instructions closely – Pay attention to instructions for how and when to take medications. Write down instructions from doctors and pharmacists and ask questions if anything is not clear. If you or your loved one suffer from vision problems, ask for labels to be printed in a larger print size.
  • Use the same pharmacy to fill all prescriptions – If possible, get all medications from the same pharmacy. That will help keep track of what your loved one is taking and the pharmacist is more likely to spot any potential issues with how the various medications prescribed could interact.
  • Use a pill organizer – Making sure all those medications are being taken and taken at the right time can be a challenge when multiple prescriptions are involved. If your loved one suffers from memory issues, Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, be aware of the risk of skipping or accidentally doubling doses. One safeguard against that risk is to use a pill organizer, which can range from a simple weekly pillbox with each day’s medications in a separate compartment to sophisticated computerized medication dispensing systems set to timers.
  • Brown Bag Review – One way to make sure your loved one is taking the proper medications and avoiding any possible dangerous drug interactions is to bring all of the medications to the doctor for a review of the medications. Put all of the pill bottles and other containers of both prescription and over-the-counter medications your loved one is taking into a brown bag and have the doctor review them for any potential problems. If possible, request extra time with the doctor to do this when you schedule your appointment.

Help in paying for medications

MetroWest Meds

MetroWest Meds is a program designed to help eligible uninsured and underinsured individuals receive prescription medications at no cost or at a discounted rate. Funded primarily through a grant from the MetroWest Health Foundation, the program began in 2004 and has helped over 3,600 clients in the past decade.

The MetroWest Meds program provides assistance in three different ways:

  • Pharmaceutical free medication programs – MetroWest Meds assists eligible clients with the application process. Most companies that make brand name medications provide them free of charge, to those who meet income requirements and are uninsured or underinsured. If approved, clients are mailed a three-month supply of free medication at a time for up to one year; renewal applications can be done annually.
  • Other discount assistance – MetroWest Meds informs clients and helps them with applications for a variety of programs that are not free but that can reduce a person’s out-of-pocket costs. This assistance includes discount generic drug programs, co-pay relief foundations, the low-income subsidy for Medicare D and Prescription Advantage.  They also assist clients with applications for MassHealth and ConnectorCare plans if they are eligible.
  • Community education events – MetroWest Meds provides hour-long presentations throughout MetroWest, informing people of prescription cost cutting measures they can access on their own.

The program is available to those who live in the communities served by the MetroWest Health Foundation and who are having trouble affording their medications.

For more information, contact program manager Susan Moriarty at 508-270-5781. Office hours for the program are held at the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center (354 Waverly Street, Framingham, MA) Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can also read more about the history of the program in a Q&A with Moriarty on our Caregiving Chronicles blog.

Prescription Advantage Program

The Prescription Advantage Program is Massachusetts’ state prescription assistance program administered by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. It provides prescription drug coverage to Massachusetts residents age 65 and older and younger individuals with disabilities who meet income and employment guidelines.

Prescription Advantage provides coverage for prescription drugs when members reach the Medicare D coverage gap often referred to as the “donut hole” and also provides primary coverage to people age 65 and older who are not eligible for Medicare.

For more information, visit www.mass.gov/elders/healthcare/prescription-advantage/ or call 1-800-243-4636.

MCPHS University Pharmacy Outreach

MCPHS University Pharmacy Outreach is a non-profit organization promoting medication adherence by providing help to Massachusetts residents with their medication related needs. Case managers and pharmacists help ensure people can afford their medications and understand how to take their medications correctly.

MCPHS University Pharmacy Outreach services are free of charge and offered by phone Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at 866-633-1617 or through programs held at community sites throughout the state. For more information, visit www.mcphs.edu/pharmacyoutreach.

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