Your Pharmacist and You: Reducing Your Fall Risk by Understanding Your Medications

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Your Pharmacist and You: Reducing Your Fall Risk by Understanding Your Medications

Day to day medication management can be an overwhelming task – sometimes feeling like it is a new full time job. The more medications that are identified on your list, the more difficult it is to take them all correctly. As a pharmacist, I see firsthand how challenging managing and taking your medications regularly can be. As part of our counseling role, pharmacists are happy to assist you by reviewing all of your medications with you to help you understand what you need to know about them. Organizations such as the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and the National Council on Patient Information and Education have provided tips on what to discuss with your pharmacist at a review – we call these “brown bag” medication reviews. This is because all your medications should be brought to the review in a brown bag-including all prescription medications, as well as any over the counter medications such as creams, ointments, eye drops, vitamins or natural supplements. By scheduling a specific time to meet with your pharmacist, you will have the opportunity to ask questions, take notes and gain a better understanding of the medications you are taking.

The Massachusetts Commission on Falls Prevention is dedicated to recommending how older adults can reduce their risks for falls and fall-related injuries. One way that is often recommended is to learn more about the medications you are taking and to find out about any possible side effects that could increase your risk for falling. Remember to be cautious when trying a new medication for the first time until you are comfortable in how it reacts for you. Some medications may cause drowsiness or changes in balance. Others may alter your vision so objects do not appear how they really are. Consider taking advantage of brown bag reviews by meeting with your local pharmacist some time soon.  

Here are some specific questions you may want to ask:

  1. What is the generic and brand name of the medication? Knowing both names will help eliminate taking a duplicate of the same medication in a different form.
  2. What am I taking the medication for?
  3. When during the day do I take the medication? If once a day is that in the morning or at night? If more often, do I need to wake up to take a dose? What if I miss a dose? Do I take the medication all the time or just as I need it? Do I take with food or with any special instructions? How long should I expect to be on the medication? How long before I feel the effects of the medication? Do I limit my activities, such as smoking, or alcohol intake with this medication? 
  4. Will there be any side effects from the medication that could make me drowsy or dizzy or interfere with my balance? When should I report reactions to my physician? Are there any medications that should not be combined with those I am on?
  5. How should I store my medications?
  6. How do I dispose of unwanted and expired medications? Watch for special take back dates in your community.
  7. Are there any programs to help with the affordability of the medications?

Remember to bring a notebook to jot down notes during your review. Bringing along a friend or family member would also be helpful. At the end of your review, your pharmacist will provide you with a list of your current medications. Always carry this medication list with you, be sure to update this list if there are any changes and share it with all the members of your health care team.   

Mary Sullivan RPh, Pharm D

Member of the Massachusetts Commission on Falls Prevention