January is Glaucoma Awareness Month

At his routine eye exam, Alberto was startled when the ophthalmologist told him that he had developed glaucoma. “I didn’t have any symptoms at all!” Alberto said. His doctor prescribed medication to prevent vision loss. Without treatment, Alberto might have experienced a gradual loss of eyesight before he realized anything was happening.


Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. According to Prevent Blindness America, glaucoma is a fast-growing health problem in the U.S. Today, over 2.7 million Americans have glaucoma—which represents an increase of 22 percent from only ten years ago! Just as troubling, half of the people who have glaucoma are unaware that they have the sight-robbing condition until they have lost up to 40 percent of their vision. This is why glaucoma is often called “the sneak thief of sight.”

Q: What causes glaucoma?

Your eye is about the size of a golf ball. It is filled with a clear, jelly-like fluid that keeps it round. The eyeball is constantly being filled with new fluid, and the old fluid drains away at the same rate. But if too much fluid is produced or not enough can drain, pressure builds up in the eye. Left untreated, this excess pressure will damage the nerves that let us see. This can result in loss of sight and eventually blindness. Glaucoma sometimes has a known cause, such as an eye injury, cataracts, scar tissue, or the use of certain medications. But in most cases, the cause is unknown.

Certain people are at higher risk of developing glaucoma: those over 60, family members of people with glaucoma, people with diabetes, and people who are very nearsighted. People of Asian, African and Hispanic descent are also at higher risk.

In about 5 percent of cases, glaucoma strikes suddenly, with severe pain and a sudden vision problem. This is called acute or closed-angle glaucoma. But in most cases, pressure builds up gradually, damage progresses slowly, and there is no pain. This is called chronic or open-angle glaucoma.

Q: What are the signs of glaucoma?

Dr. James Tsai of the National Eye Institute says, “Glaucoma often has no early warning signs. Often, a person will not experience any noticeable vision loss in the early stages of glaucoma. But as the disease progresses, a person may notice his or her side vision decreasing. If the disease is left untreated, the field of vision narrows and blindness may result.”

This loss of sight is often so gradual that the person doesn’t notice until central vision is affected. Other subtle symptoms may also be present, such as blurred vision or rainbow-colored rings around lights.

It is important to catch and treat glaucoma early. People over 40 should have their eyes checked every year by an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor trained in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease). The eye care professional will test the pressure in your eye, look at the inside of your eye with a special instrument, and test your vision to detect any small changes that would suggest glaucoma. The tests for glaucoma are painless.

Note: In the acute type of glaucoma, symptoms are severe and sudden. Permanent loss of vision can occur within hours. The symptoms of acute glaucoma include redness of the eye, severe pain, headaches, nausea, sudden noticeable change in vision, and colored rings (“halos”) around lights. Acute glaucoma is a serious medical emergency. If you have the above symptoms, you should see a health care practitioner immediately.

Q: How is glaucoma treated?

Unfortunately, affected vision cannot be restored. But medical treatment can help prevent further damage. The goal of glaucoma treatment is to reduce the pressure inside the eye. Medication is usually prescribed. Some medications cut down on the amount of fluid the eye produces; others encourage a better flow of fluid out of the eye. Some drugs are taken in eye drop form, others as pills. It is very important to take your medication as directed.

People with the sudden, acute form of glaucoma usually need immediate surgery. And in some of the slower, chronic cases, the doctor eventually recommends surgery if medication fails to control the pressure well enough, or medicines are causing unacceptable side effects, making surgery the better alternative. Glaucoma surgery is relatively safe and painless, usually requiring only a short hospital stay. Today, laser surgery can make the procedure even shorter and easier.

Remember: glaucoma is treatable if detected early enough! So a glaucoma test should be a regular part of your annual physical examination.

Learn more about glaucoma, and spread the word

Prevent Blindness America provides free resources to educate the public about eye disease, including the Glaucoma Learning Center [link to: http://glaucoma.preventblindness.org%5D.

The National Eye Institute offers consumer information about the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, including the Keep Vision in Your Future Glaucoma Toolkit.

The Glaucoma Research Foundation provides information about the latest research and treatment options.

Visit the website of the American Academy of Ophthalmology for consumer information about glaucoma

Photo: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2014 

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Hiring a Home Care Worker: The Agency Advantage

Portrait of an elderly woman in a wheelchair and her caring nurse beside her

Is it becoming more difficult for Dad to take proper care of his yard or bend over to take the laundry out of the dryer? Does it seem like too much effort some days for him to cook or take care of basic housework? Does he bathe less often because he is worried about slipping and falling in the shower when alone?

Maybe your mom has experienced a small stroke. She is about to be discharged from the hospital and wants to return home. But she needs speech therapy, physical therapy and help with eating and transferring from bed to chair. She shouldn’t be alone for the first few weeks.

These are familiar scenarios faced by thousands of American families every day. If you’re not familiar with eldercare options and how to help an aging loved one, chances are you will be in the future! Today, 40 percent of Americans are already involved to some degree in the care of an elderly person. And when older adults prefer to stay in their own homes rather than move to a nursing home or other senior living facility, home care can be a real life saver for the older adult and family caregivers alike.

The home care field is growing every year, and many specialized services can be provided in the home. Here are some categories of professionals who can help:

Personal care attendants and home health aides are trained to provide custodial and personal care, such as helping with activities of daily living (e.g., dressing, bathing, getting in and out of bed, and assistance with using the bathroom). They can also provide medication reminders, run errands, prepare meals for the patient, and do light housekeeping tasks.

Certified Home Health Aides/Certified Nursing Aides (HHAs, CNAs or NACs) are health aides who have received more specialized training. The training requirement varies from state to state. In addition to personal care, CNAs can perform simple medical procedures such as taking temperatures, changing dressings, and in some states can administer medications under a nurses oversight.

Registered Nurses (RNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) provide skilled medical services beyond those that home health aides offer. Nurses can conduct an assessment to determine the care needed and monitor the patient’s condition. They perform hands-on procedures such as changing wound dressings, inserting catheters and IV lines, and giving injections.

Rehabilitation Services provide care in the home to help maximize the patient’s quality of life, independence, and safety, and to restore the patient to the highest level of function possible.

Durable medical equipment companies provide home care equipment that will be used over an extended period of time, such as oxygen delivery systems, wheelchairs, walkers, and hospital beds. They can also furnish wound care dressings, incontinence aids, and other products and supplies like grab bars, shower heads, and shower chairs to ensure safety in the home.

Finding the Right Home Care Services

The first step is to assess the person’s needs. Make a realistic list of home and personal care tasks the person needs help with. Work with the person’s health care provider to get an accurate picture of the person’s medical requirements.

The second step is to locate the right home care provider. A reputable home care agency is the safest choice—both for your loved one’s well-being and your own peace of mind.

Some families have gone through the informal network or “gray market,” hiring a home helper through a classified ad, Craigslist, a nurse registry or through word of mouth. But before you go this route, ask yourself whether you really want to become the person’s employer, with all the risks and responsibilities that the role entails? Think about these factors:

  • You would be responsible for withholding and reporting income taxes and paying Social Security taxes. This can be very complicated and could also leave you open to having to pay back taxes and penalties.
  • If the caregiver were to be injured while working, you could end up paying the medical bills. The caregiver could file a workman’s compensation claim or even file a lawsuit against you or your family.
  • It would be up to you to check certificates, licenses, references and criminal background…and to protect against elder abuse and financial exploitation.
  • You would be responsible for determining whether the care provider knows how to safely care for your loved one. For example, if your family member needs to be transferred from a wheelchair, you would need to be sure that the care provider knows how to do this safely.
  • You cannot try to hire someone on a seven-day-per-week basis. No employee can be a good employee for long without having time for personal needs and interests. So, you would need to plan for days off, vacation time and other times when the caregiver cannot be available.
  • If problems arise, you would be on your own in working things out as an employer. This includes discipline and termination.

Given the burden of finding, hiring, training and functioning as an employer, going to an agency instead provides numerous advantages. An experienced caregiver arrives pre-screened, trained and under the supervision of the agency. You don’t have to worry about tax withholding, or liability. If the caregiver doesn’t arrive, it’s the agency’s responsibility to provide a backup.

Hiring qualified, reputable home care aides can help meet your family’s needs and greatly extend the ability of seniors to live safely and comfortably at home.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2013

– See more at: http://handinhandenews.com/en/32210135/1/230/Hiring-a-Home-Care-Worker-The-Agency-Advantage.htm#sthash.RMSzYWSi.dpuf

“Grandchild-Proof” Your Home


September 8 is Grandparents Day!

Grandchildren are a great bonus of growing older. You may have heard the old joke: “If I knew grandchildren were going to be this fun, I would have had them first.” Grandparents and grandchildren alike benefit by this special connection. For example, a study presented last month by the American Sociological Association showed that grandparents and grandchildren who have a close relationship lower the risk of depression for both of them.

Today’s grandparents are serving an ever more important role in the lives of their grandchildren. According to a recent MetLife study, there are more grandparents than ever in the U.S.—and despite the stereotype of Granny sitting on the porch in her rocking chair, today’s grandparents are more actively involved than ever with their grandkids.

Maybe your grandchildren live nearby, and you often fill in as a babysitter. Perhaps they live at a distance, and visits are an eagerly awaited special event. You might even be one of the growing number of seniors who are raising their grandchildren when the children’s parents cannot. No matter what your situation, when grandchildren are in your home, you want them to be safe…and you want to be able to enjoy their visits without worry.

Your concern is justified. According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, each year 2.5 million children are seriously injured—some fatally—by hazards in the home. Most of these accidents were preventable! Read on for a quick refresher course in childproofing your home, including some information that may be new to you if it’s been a while since you scrutinized your home for things curious little hands could get into.

A few things to remember:

Child safety precautions may seem more stringent. Health and safety experts continue to refine ideas about keeping children safe. For example, toy safety regulations are much more strict than they used to be, and many experts and young parents are more cautious about the materials from which toys are manufactured. Read labels to be sure toys are safe for the age of the child. And if you’ve saved treasured playthings from when your children were young, or picked up fun-looking items at a garage sale, inspect them carefully to be sure they contain no small parts that could cause choking (smaller than two inches in diameter), sharp edges, or materials that could break into pieces. Some heirloom toys are best kept on display—out of reach.

Outdated safety equipment may be UNsafe. Child safety devices have come a long way. For example, the evolution of the child car seat alone would make quite a story! Remember the pre-seatbelt days when kids crawled all over the back seat during family trips? And those unanchored car seats with a toy steering wheel? Since then, child car seats have been continually improved, so that even a decade-old car seat is probably not considered state-of-the art. The same goes for home safety equipment. For example, the common flat plastic outlet protector could fit in a small child’s mouth—a choking hazard. A child’s neck could get caught in the old scissor-style safety gate.

Hand-me-down or garage sale equipment may not provide an acceptable degree of protection.
Our homes have changed over the past few decades. The homes of today are likely to have exercise equipment, hot tubs, home offices with computers, and other relatively recent features requiring a new set of precautions. Computers, for example, are often placed on the floor within reach, and monitors and laptops can be pulled down by the cord.

Some grandparents recommend having a designated “kid friendly” section of the house, keeping more dangerous areas locked off (for example, the home gym and garage). Be creative! If the living room has the fewest hazards, make it the playroom while you have visiting little ones.

Be open to suggestions! Don’t get your feelings hurt if your kids correct you. They’re Mom and Dad now, and they’ve probably done plenty of homework about childproofing. Be proud of them.

Source: Assisting Hands® in association with IlluminAge, © IlluminAge 2013

– See more at: http://www.handinhandenews.com/en/32210134/1/223/Grandchild-Proof-Your-Home.htm#sthash.yNBXYAe8.dpuf

One Option in Funding Long-Term Care Insurance

Funding Long-Term Care Insurance with a 1035 Exchange
Many people assume they cannot afford long-term care insurance to protect themselves and their families from the financial, emotional and physical sacrifices needed to provide long-term care for a loved one. However, long-term care premiums are a reasonably small expense when compared to paying for care out of pocket, as these costs can run as high as $100,000 a year.

Despite these facts, finding ways to pay for premiums is still a genuine challenge for many families seeking coverage. Fortunately, there are several funding options available to help people on tight budgets pay for long-term care insurance, including 1035 exchanges.

A 1035 exchange is a specific transfer of funds from one life insurance policy, endowment policy or annuity policy with no gain or loss, meaning it is not taxable.

Due to new opportunities resulting from the Pension Protection Act of 2006, annuity owners can also use their non-qualified annuity to pay long-term care insurance premiums tax-free. By using a 1035 exchange, consumers may transfer the value from a life insurance policy into a long-term care policy.
One reason many people move forward with this type of exchange is because their previous policy is outdated or needs revising. Individuals may often be looking to place their policy with a different company. In either case, consumers should make sure the wealth they have built up in the existing policy is not lost.

The exchange should not be more than the single premium of the long-term care policy. Consumers must also pay the difference if the exchange is less than the amount of the single premium.

As families across the nation begin to organize their households for fall, it’s important for everyone to have a retirement plan in place that secures their financial future. A long-term care policy can help and with 1035 exchanges, even consumers on tight budgets do not have to be without protection.

You will want to speak with a long term care expert if you would like more information on this option or if you have additional inquiries on how long term care insurance can help you or someone you know. One local resource is Mike Westling.  A quick phone call to him will give you more insight on how to navigate your retirement.  

Mike Westling, CLTC
Assured LTC Planning, LLC
Advancing the self-insured to self-assured
612-867-8100 personal line

Living with Urinary Incontinence

When an older adult is dealing with incontinence, embarrassment may stand in the way of seeking treatment.
Over 25 million Americans experience incontinence. Yet most seniors who are dealing with the condition may well feel that they are all alone, because this isn’t a topic that comes up very often! They may avoid discussing the issue, even when family caregivers know there is a problem.


But it is very important that seniors discuss this issue with their healthcare provider. Left untreated, incontinence usually worsens, and can be the first step to a debilitating withdrawal from life, with decreased social connectedness, physical activity and intellectual stimulation. Incontinence causes skin irritation, interferes with sleep, and can lead to depression. It is so important to seek help for the condition.

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the inability to maintain control over the release of urine from the bladder. The causes of incontinence vary widely, as does the degree of the problem. Incontinence may be brought on by illness, fatigue, confusion, or a hospital admission. It also may be caused by weakening of the muscles which control bladder outflow, disorders of the central nervous system or obstruction to the bladder.

It is helpful to be able to distinguish between the different types of incontinence:

  • Urge incontinence occurs often in seniors and can be the result of neurological damage, strokes, diabetes, or the aftermath of bladder infections or kidney stones. In this circumstance, the individual does not receive a signal in time to reach the bathroom before the bladder begins to empty itself.
  • Overflow incontinence occurs when small amounts of urine leak from a bladder that is always full due to such conditions as obstruction, constipation or nerve damage. In men, enlarged prostate is often the cause.
  • Stress incontinence means the involuntary passing of urine during any increase in abdominal pressure, such as coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting heavy objects. It is often seen in women who have had relaxation of the muscles of the pelvic floor, usually due to childbirth.
  • Functional incontinence occurs when a person has normal bladder control, but is unable to get to the toilet on time because of a mobility problem. Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia may also be a factor; people with these conditions may not be able to think about getting to the toilet or may forget how to get there and negotiate clothing.

Can incontinence be treated?

Many people believe that incontinence is just “a normal part of growing older.” But this isn’t necessarily true. Yes, incontinence becomes more common as we grow older, but in many cases, it can be treated effectively.
So at the first sign of incontinence, it is important to consult a physician to determine its cause and type. The person’s physician can diagnose and treat underlying diseases, check and reevaluate medications that might cause or increase incontinence, and evaluate the severity of the problem. The patient may be asked to keep a “bladder diary,” recording incidents of incontinence and the amount and frequency of urination. Ultrasound and other tests provide an idea of bladder volume, as well as any blockages or other contributing factors.

A variety of treatments are available, including:

Bladder training. The patient keeps a chart of urination and leaking, and then works out a bathroom schedule, planning trips to the toilet at certain set times (for example, once an hour).

Pelvic muscle exercises, such as “Kegels,” can strengthen the bladder muscles and the muscles of the pelvic floor. This helps hold urine in the bladder longer. The time can be gradually extended so that urine is held for longer periods.

Medications. Some commonly prescribed drugs stop bladder contractions; others relax the muscles to prevent urgent or frequent urination. In post-menopausal women, estrogen pills, creams or patches may be prescribed.

Surgery. While only a physician can tell if treatment would be effective for any particular case, surgery can be effective, especially in treatment of stress incontinence and incontinence due to prostate enlargement.
Lifestyle changes. The physician may recommend cutting down or eliminating caffeine, alcohol and tobacco products. All can increase incontinence by irritating the bladder.

When treatments don’t completely work… 

People who are living with incontinence may feel more secure wearing special absorbent, disposable undergarments which are inconspicuous and quite effective in masking the incontinence. These undergarments are sold in drug stores and supermarkets, and though they don’t “solve” the problem, they may bring a sense of peace of mind and dignity to your loved one.

If mobility problems prevent the person from making it to the bathroom in time, consider having a commode chair nearby.

Specially designed clothing makes it easier for people with arthritis, stroke or Alzheimer’s to negotiate fasteners in time.

How can family help?

When dealing with an incontinent loved one, tact and sensitivity are always necessary. Try not to overreact if an older family member or friend has an accident around you. Dignity is a fragile thing in all of us, and it is something we all need to maintain. This is one of those occasions in which you need to be particularly careful in your caring.

But it’s also important to talk about the problem with your loved one, and encourage him or her to seek treatment. The National Association for Continence estimates that the average senior waits close to seven years to report the problem to the doctor! The sooner treatment begins, the better.

For More Information

Source: Assisting Hands® in association with IlluminAge, © IlluminAge 2013

The National Association for Continence website offers information and support for older adults and caregivers, including the Bladder and Bowel Diagnostic Tool.

The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse website includes extensive information and resources on urinary incontinence.

– See more at: http://handinhandenews.com/en/32210132/1/209/Living-with-Urinary-Incontinence.htm#sthash.nnn4T4kb.dpuf

Ten Great Ways to Take Care of Your Brain

“Where did I park?” You dashed into the mall, visited a few stores, and now, shopping bags in hand, you realize you can’t remember where you left the car.

“I’ve met that fellow several times…what is his name?” Names, phone numbers, even familiar words…things sometimes seem to be “on the tip of your tongue” but escape quick recollection.

Woman Who is Proactive About Her Health

When you think about your own aging, what concerns you the most? Did you know that more people report apprehension about memory loss than about heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis or any other condition?

It is true that we experience memory changes as we age. Our speed of recollection and the amount of detail we remember decline. We become more likely to experience the classic “absentmindedness,” especially when we are “multitasking” and not paying full attention. Many of us worry that these changes might be symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

This is certainly not an unreasonable concern. According to a recent report from the Alzheimer’s Association, one out of eight people will develop dementia, many of them living for decades with the disease. While not “an ordinary part of aging,” Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Parkinson’s and other conditions that cause cognitive impairment are more common the older we get. These conditions can have a negative—even catastrophic—impact on our memory and other areas of cognitive health.

Yet, here is the good news. For most of us, the basic aspects of memory will remain pretty much the same: our vocabulary and language skills, reasoning and logic, the ability to pay attention, acquired skills like playing the guitar or cooking an omelet…and that special quality that we usually refer to as “wisdom.”

As with so many aspects of aging, brain fitness varies from individual to individual. Some of this is hereditary. Yes, genes are a factor. But just as you can keep your body in shape by following a wellness regimen, there are also steps you can take to make it more likely that your memory will remain sound. Here are some great things to remember:

1. Remember to…practice good nutrition. We can choose foods that help protect our brains. The good news is, if you are one of the many adults who try to follow a “heart smart” diet, you are also on track for “brain smart” menu choices. A study by Columbia University researchers confirmed that a high level of “good cholesterol” (HDL) is associated with a lower risk of dementia. Avoid: cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fats. Choose: fish, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats such as olive oil or canola oil. Take a multivitamin—but don’t take megadoses that could be toxic. Even on a day-to-day basis, nourishing meals improve alertness and help us retain memories.

2. Remember to…stay physically active. Just as a “heart smart” diet helps protect the brain, heart-strengthening aerobic exercise improves memory and even lowers the risk of dementia. A National Institute on Aging-funded study showed that moderate aerobic exercise can actually increase the size of the area of the brain involved in memory formation. Indeed, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researcher J. Carson Smith, “If you are at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the benefits of exercise to your brain function might be even greater than for those who do not have that genetic risk.” Talk to your healthcare provider about an exercise program that is right for you.

3. Remember to…sleep well. You’ve probably noticed that when you don’t get enough good quality sleep, it is harder to concentrate the next day. And did you know that memories of the day are “filed away” in the brain while we sleep? People who suffer from sleep disturbances often experience memory problems. But many sleep disorders are treatable, so speak to your healthcare provider if you experience trouble falling asleep, bothersome wakeful periods during the night, or snoring (which might suggest sleep apnea—a disorder that causes interruption in breathing during sleep).

4. Remember to…treat depression and avoid stress. Both cause chemical changes that can damage the brain. If you are feeling overly stressed, or if depression is making it hard for you to focus and concentrate, talk with your healthcare provider. Counseling, meditation and other relaxation techniques can all help.

5. Remember to…quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Many substances found in cigarette smoke damage the brain and impair memory. A study from Kaiser Permanente demonstrated a startling 172% increased risk of dementia among heavy smokers! And while a number of studies suggest that drinking in moderation might actually be beneficial, having more than a drink or two per day can be toxic to the brain.

6. Remember to…challenge your mind and memory. Mental stimulation encourages new connections between brain cells…so when it comes to the memory, “use it or lose it” isn’t just a cliché. Seek out a variety of mentally challenging activities. Learn a new skill—take up an instrument or study a foreign language. Join a club, volunteer, find extra ways to increase brain-protecting social interaction. Visit a museum or work a difficult puzzle. Passive activities, such as watching TV, don’t offer the same benefits.

7. Remember to…have a memory fitness strategy. It is actually possible to increase memory sharpness through training. Visualization, concentration and other effective memory skill techniques skills improve the retention and accessing of memories. And people of every age now use supplemental technology—everything from simple sticky notes to voice recorders, personal organizers, day planners…the possibilities are endless.

8. Remember to…use seatbelts and wear a bike helmet. Head injury can cause catastrophic damage to the brain and memory. And whether on the road or at home, take proactive steps to protect against falls. Remove clutter that might trip you up, install handrails by stairs and in the bathroom if needed, and ask your healthcare provider about a fall prevention class.

9. Remember to…bring up memory concerns at your next healthcare appointment. Share with your doctor if you have experienced problems, especially disorientation, forgetting recently learned information, or a sudden inability to complete familiar tasks. While it’s tempting to be in denial about memory impairment, early diagnosis of conditions such as Alzheimer’s or mini-strokes allows treatment to begin right away. And when problems stem from a reversible or controllable condition, the sooner treatment begins, the better!

10. Remember to…have your healthcare provider review your medications. Our lives are improved and extended by many of the medicines we take—but over-medication and the side effects of some drugs can dull the memory. Common culprits: tranquilizers, sleeping pills, pain medications, high blood pressure drugs. Your physician may switch you to a different drug or dosage to lessen the effect.

Why add stress to your life by worrying about your memory? Learn about the normal memory changes associated with aging, do all you can to take care of your brain, check out memory compensation strategies…and relax, knowing you’re doing everything you can to keep your memory strong through your later years.

Source: Assisting Hands® in association with IlluminAge, © IlluminAge 2013

Medication Safety for Seniors

For many seniors, medications play a big role in managing health problems. Remember, however, that all medications, whether prescribed by a doctor or bought over the counter, have potentially toxic side effects that can cause significant problems. Read on to find out several simple but important steps for avoiding the risk.

There are two types of medications: prescription drugs (which can only be taken under a doctor’s supervision) and over-the-counter medicines, which are available without a prescription. Both types are serious medicines, and need to be used properly, both individually and in combination with other medicines.

Medicines play an important part in improving health and prolonging life. They are beneficial in controlling many of the diseases and other health concerns that seniors experience, such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and heart disease. Sometimes the right medication can prevent hospitalization or reduce the length of a hospital stay.

Any single medical disorder may require the use of more than one drug. And a patient may have a combination of conditions or diseases that requires the use of several different medications. The more conditions and drugs involved, the more caution is required in order to avoid side effects—unintended bad results from a drug. In seniors, side effects can cause depression, increase the risk of falls, even mimic dementia.

Some drugs are known to cause potentially serious problems for seniors. As we age, our bodies begin to respond differently to medications. For example, it takes longer for substances to be eliminated from the body than it did when we were younger, so we may need a lower dosage of a drug. And the side effects of some medications may become more serious. Overmedication, a major concern with many seniors, can occur if a person…

  • fails to stop using a drug when directed by the prescriber
  • uses another person’s medications
  • takes a medication in excess of recommended dosage
  • uses a number of different medications which have a similar effect.

Some drugs can also have serious interactions with certain other drugs. For patients seeing two or more care providers at the same time, this presents a special challenge. It is important to keep a complete, updated list of the medications a senior takes—both prescription and non-prescription—and take this list along to each visit to a health care provider.

In addition, the patient should carefully follow the prescribed regimen (frequency of dosage, length of treatment, proper storage, consumption with or without food, and so forth) in order to ensure the best results and minimize the risk of adverse effects.

A person’s health care practitioner needs certain information about the medications the patient takes. He or she may ask:

  1. What prescription and over-the-counter medications are you currently taking?
  2. How are you taking them?
  3. What medications are you allergic to, and what happens when you take those medications?
  4. Have any medications ever caused undesirable side effects, such as rash, headaches, drowsiness, dizziness or nausea?

Medication Safety Do’s and Don’ts

Here are some important facts for seniors and their loved ones to know about taking medications:


DO bring a list of all medications—prescription and over the counter—to doctor visits, and have the doctor review all medications.
DO be sure to take all the medication prescribed for you.
DO have a system to remember what medications you’ve taken and when to take them, especially if you take several different drugs.
DO drink a full glass of water when taking tablets or capsules. Always take them standing or sitting—not lying down.
DO chew chewable tablets thoroughly and wash them down with a glass of water.
DO shake bottles of liquid medications before use.
DO always store medications out of the reach of children.
DO take antacids or laxatives either two hours before or two hours after taking other medications.
DO try to use a single pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions; your pharmacist can help you avoid drug interactions.
DO report any symptoms to your doctor. He/she will help you decide if the symptoms are caused by the medication, and if you should stop taking it.
DO be alert for side effects that could increase the risk of falling, such as dizziness and balance problems, fatigue or drowsiness, confusion, loss of coordination or weakness.


DON’T take more or less than the prescribed dosage, unless directed to do so by your doctor.
DON’T stop taking a medication suddenly without checking with your doctor—even if you feel better.
DON’T mix alcohol and medicine, unless approved by your doctor. Many drugs react in a negative way when combined with alcohol.
DON’T take medication prescribed for someone else or give yours to another person.
DON’T keep old or expired medications.
DON’T ignore side effects—call your physician!

Source: Assisting Hands® in association with IlluminAge, © IlluminAge 2013

– See more at: http://handinhandenews.com/en/32210132/1/208/Medication-Safety-for-Seniors.htm#sthash.tQjlaidK.dpuf