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Navigating Your Medications: Five Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist or Doctor

Medications play a big role in the daily lives of older Americans and those with chronic conditions. Four out of ten Americans age 65 and older take five or more medications regularly.

It can be very hard to keep track of so many medications. Patients often don’t take them as prescribed. This can lead to medicine-related hospital visits and even death!

It is very important to take your medications as directed. To help you keep track of your medications, here is a to-do list and five questions to ask your pharmacist or primary care doctor. Try to do these at least once a year.

To Do

  • Make a complete list of your medications. Include name, condition you take it for, and dosage. This can be done with your pharmacist, your doctor, or your VNSNY CHOICE Care Manager. To help you compile the list, you may want to take your medicines with you to the pharmacy or primary care doctor. Take this list with you to all doctor appointments. This way, all of your doctors know what you are already taking.
  • Try to get all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. That way, a pharmacist can make sure a new prescription will not interact with your existing medicines. (See question 2 below.)
  • Dispose of any old medications or ones the doctor tells you to stop taking. Talk to your pharmacist to make sure you get rid of them safely.
  • Let your doctor know if a medication causes side effects. If a new medicine makes you dizzy or hurts your stomach, you might decide to stop taking it. The doctor can often prescribe a similar medication that works better.
  • To keep from running out of medications that have to be specially authorized for insurance, call your doctor’s office when you still have one refill left. If you do run out, ask your doctor about getting samples. That way, you will still be able to take your medication as you wait for your new prescription to be filled.

To Ask

  1. What is this medication for, and how am I supposed to take it?Over time, you can forget why you are taking a certain medication. Let your pharmacist remind you why and how to take the medicine. Some medicines should be taken on an empty stomach, and others a full stomach. Timing can be important, too. For instance, “every six hours” means just that. You might have to wake up at night to stay with the schedule. It is not the same as “four times a day” within waking hours.
  2. Can these medicines interact with other things, including food?
    Some medications can interact with others. This means they combine in ways that can be harmful. This is why it’s important to make sure your pharmacist knows all the medications you are taking. Ask the pharmacist when adding a new medication. Medications can also interact with foods and beverages. Some blood pressure medicines cannot be taken with the salt-alternative Mrs. Dash. Lipitor cannot be taken with grapefruit juice.
  3. Can I crush these pills? I have trouble swallowing.
    It is not safe to crush some medications before you take them. Extended-release pills, for example, are designed so your body absorbs the medicine over time. If you crush them, the medicine will release too quickly and can have severe effects on your body. If you have trouble swallowing, ask your doctor if there is a liquid you can take. Or there may be a similar medication.
  4. Do the medications my doctor wants me to take interact with any natural remedies or vitamins I take?
    You might think that herbal supplements or teas are safe because they are “natural.” They can still cause interactions and side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the natural medicines, supplements, or vitamins you take are safe to take with your prescriptions.
  5. Can I stop this medication on my own?
    Never stop a medication without talking with your physician. It’s important to take all antibiotics, for example, to ensure that all the bacteria have been killed and won’t return. And if side effects like nausea or trouble sleeping make you want to skip your medication, talk to your doctor right away. There may be other medications that may be easier for you to tolerate.

After all, medicines can only help when you take them.