Seniors on Drugs

Not Following Directions


A generic drug is labeled by its chemical name, while a brand name drug carries a name given by its manufacturer. For example, the brand name of the sleeping medication Restoril has a generic equivalent known as temazepam. Generics are spinoffs of brand name drugs, but they must have the same active ingredients, strength, and dosage form as brand name drugs. They must also be the same chemically and have the same medical effect. Generics cost much less than the brand name drug, sometimes half the price.

Medication mishaps don't always come from seeing too many doctors and a lack of communication. Older pill takers have a reputation for not following directions. Studies show that three out of four older adults don't take their medications properly. A quarter of all nursing home admissions are linked to an inability to correctly take medications. They are labeled in the medical community as being “noncompliant.” It's not like they mean to be this way. If Dad has arthritis and finds it a pain to open the pill bottle, is forgetful, or has poor eyesight and can't read the small print, he'll have problems keeping up with his drug regimen. When it comes to taking three or four pills a day—each one at a different time and a different number of times throughout the day—it's no wonder. Always check with your parent's doctor if you have any questions or concerns about their medications.

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Silver Lining

Soon you'll see clearly marked and understandable labels on all over-the-counter drugs. Thanks to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), drug companies must use simple language to explain the risks of the drug, print the risks in large type, and present the information in a standardized, easy-to-follow format on the outside of the package. It will be similar to the food labels we now have on all food products. So read the labels!

To add to the pharmaceutical pot, your parents are also buying over-the-counter drugs that can negatively interact with prescribed drugs. All too often, your parents won't think of telling the doctor that they're taking aspirin, antacids, cold medicines, and laxatives. If Dad is taking a blood-thinning medication and aspirins, he's going overboard on the thinners and can risk hemorrhaging. Those Tums for Mom's calcium can cause real havoc with her medicine for Parkinson's disease. Though most of these OTC drugs are safe, they are not risk-free. More than 600 of these drugs contain ingredients and dosages that 20 years ago you couldn't even buy without a doctor's prescription. Just because Mom and Dad can buy pills over the counter, doesn't mean they're not drugs.

Different Bodies, Different Doses

The aging body has something to say about all this pill popping. That vintage body can't take the same dosage as a young body. The kidney and liver—big players in processing drugs in the body—slow down with age. Less muscle tissue and more fat tissue in the geriatric body means that drug absorption rates get skewed. How long the drug stays in the body, how fast it gets through the system, and how quickly it's eliminated all play a part in how well Mom or Dad tolerates a drug. Be aware that most drugs have been tested on young people (although this practice is beginning to change). As a result, doctors and drug companies have to guesstimate what's an appropriate dose for older people. Dad's physician may start his dosage low and slowly work up to an amount that meets your Dad's unique needs. It's a smart move.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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