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SENIOR PROMISE PROGRAM: Communication, good records can help prevent wrong drug interactions


 Seniors need to be wary not only of their medications, but also how those medicines might interact with each other. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo illustration)


By Steve Euvino

Northwest Indiana Catholic


     HAMMOND – One woman was taking medications for asthma, only to learn later she showed no apparent signs of having asthma. Another woman, who twice took the wrong dosages of medication, now examines the contents at the pharmacy counter. A third woman asks pharmacy staff not to staple the bag containing her medications so she can look at them first. A fourth woman now reads the fine print on medicine bottles.

     These experiences with medications came up at a Senior Promise program May 8 at Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Hammond on drug interactions. A team of four clinical pharmacists from the hospital offered advice on being careful with medications, whether they’re prescription drugs or over-the-counter purchases.

     One practical piece of advice is communication or consultation. Scott Janiczak, one of the St. Margaret pharmacists, encouraged seniors to ask their local pharmacist to review the medications they’re taking.

     Fellow pharmacist Liz Sullivan added, “Any questions, just call. We want to make sure you’re taken care of. It’s your safety that’s in mind. Just ask questions.”

     Changes in the body due to medications can occur, the pharmacy staff explained, when new medications are taken or when medications are stopped; dosage changes; medications or supplements are taken without notifying one’s physician; or the list of medications to be taken is inaccurate.

     By reviewing one’s list of medications with a pharmacist, the staff said, pharmacists can then communicate that list with the patient’s physician.

     Franciscan Senior Promise, founded in 2011, provides seniors ages 55 and older with current information about health issues, including healthy lifestyle choices.

     Sullivan suggested that, to avoid mistakes over drug interactions or taking the wrong medications, seniors should communicate with their healthcare providers; maintain an accurate medication list; use a single pharmacy so that the list of medications is current and accurate; review the medications being taken; keep all written information on medications; carefully read labels; and keep a pill box to keep track of which drugs have been or need to be taken that day. Pill boxes, the staff said, can help prevent medication errors, as they are easy to organize and serve as easy reminders.     

     Staff pharmacists stressed staying on schedule with one’s medications. Diana Hegazin, one of the St. Margaret clinical pharmacists, suggested waiting until the next day to take a medication is the person is unsure if she took it or not. Hegazin counseled, “If you’re not sure if you took [the medication], don’t take it.”

     When meeting with a physician regarding medications, Hegazin said, “Know what you want to say when you go see him.”

     Drugs can also interact with other drugs, as well as with foods and supplements. One such drug-food interaction is some cholesterol medicines and grapefruit.

     With plenty of advertisements for “miracle drugs,” pharmacist Nancy Lee recommends caution. “It’s always good to ask your physician or pharmacist,” Lee said, as patients should question the accuracy of companies that promote these products.

     The hospital pharmacy staff recommends storing drugs in cool, dry areas, away from heat and humidity. The bathroom – the traditional place for medicine cabinets – is probably not a good place for medication storage, due to heat and humidity from baths and showers.

     A good place for storing one’s medications, the staff said, is the kitchen, where they will be near a water source, as long as the drugs are out of the reach of children and pets.

     What about drugs that have exceeded their expiration date? There’s no definite answer to that question, Sullivan said. The expiration date on the label shows when the drug loses its potency, possibly less than 90-percent effective.

     “The best advice,” Sullivan said, “is don’t use it if it’s expired.”

     Note: For more information on Franciscan Senior Promise call 800-931-3322. Monthly meetings alternate between Franciscan St. Margaret’s Hammond and Dyer campuses.

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