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What the doctor ordered: How to worry less about your prescriptions

Learn how you can manage your medications and prescriptions and worry less about getting the right medication, dosages and side effects.

February 23, 2018

Elderly medication worries

With Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announcing the need to tackle the 1 in 5 drug errors in the NHS, learn how you can manage your medications and worry less about getting the right prescriptions, correct dosage and harmful side effects.

If you’re helping an older person with their healthcare, chances are that they’re taking a few prescription medicines. It can be tricky to keep track, and is often a worry for everyone involved. Are they following the right dosage instructions? Perhaps you wonder if they are still on the right medication? What about side-effects?

More people are living for longer with a wider range of problems, so treatment has become more complicated. Even for highly-educated patients, instructions for several different tablets a day can be daunting. The leaflets, the names and the dosages can become very confusing. Then of course, none of us really wants to take their tablets in the first place. Like a four-year old at Sunday lunch, most of us need a bit of encouragement to ‘eat our greens’.

Pressure on GPs

We also know that GPs just cannot keep on top of every single prescription. GPs, pharmacists, hospitals and care homes may be making 237 million errors a year according to recent research. This is almost the equivalent of one mistake for every five drugs handed out. NHS Health Secretary Mr Hunt said: "We are seeing four to five deaths every single day because of errors in prescription, or dispensing, or the monitoring of medications."

Prescription errors and unused medication

Prescription errors are twice as common in patients aged 75 years or older as for those 15-64 years old, with mistakes going up by 16% for each extra medicine. GPs have only a short time with each patient, and their working day is full of distractions. Unfortunately, some computer software also makes it too easy to choose the wrong drug or dosage.

Sometimes patients receive medicines they never actually use, or use only occasionally. Reports have shown that around half of all medication returned had not even been opened. This costs us all a lot of money. Unused medicines cost the NHS around £300 million every year, with around £110 million worth of medicine returned to pharmacies. The Department of Health also estimates that £90 million of unused prescriptions is tucked away in our cupboards and bathroom cabinets.

Behind the statistics are the real human stories, as there’s a cost to your friend or relative’s health if medicines are not being taken correctly. This could mean symptoms getting worse, and extra treatments that could be avoided. On top of everything is the nagging fear of not getting it right.

You can help by returning any unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy for safe disposal. Check that they are not giving their medicine to anyone else – it does happen. And make sure medicines are all kept in one place in the home, preferably in a cupboard or drawer that can be locked.

Managing your medication

To help make sure that medicine is being taken, automatic tablet dispensers can be a good option. There are different models, usually battery-powered, with lights to show the day and which pills to take. They have alarms which act as reminders at a set interval – useful for anyone whose memory is not as reliable as it once was.

As a rule, it’s best that people minimise the total number of prescriptions being taken. Older people have complex needs, and we know that the risk of side-effects goes up when they take more medicines.

Health and medication support

If you’re worried about the risk of side-effects and you’d value some extra peace of mind with your loved one’s medication at Taking Care, our Medication Information Service team are on hand to answer your questions and explain more about pills and prescriptions (in complete confidence).

As part of the service, we help over 70,000 people stay in the homes they love with 24/7 help at the touch of an alarm pendant or personal alarm, plus a medical support line staffed by qualified nurses. They are happy to talk with you about any concern, no matter how big or small.

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

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