Medication Misuse

I attended an inservice at Home Instead Senior Care in Phoenix on medication misuse presented by staff from the Area Agency on Aging. They have received a grant to provide community outreach and education about this public health issue. We learned that 50% of elders misuse medications and ER visits are up because of related falls or accidental poisonings. These statistics resonated for me as I thought of one of our clients in particular. There are many reasons for medication misuse – some intentional, some not – and I realized that she had fallen victim to several factors that have led to numerous falls and a recent ER visit.

First of all, she lives alone. She also takes many medications given by different doctors who don’t communicate with each other. She doesn’t completely understand what each medication is for or whether there are drug interactions she should be aware of. In addition, she doesn’t always have the money to pay for her medications, so she sometimes skips doses. This leads to inconsistency in drug effectiveness.

What she does right, though, is to keep a list of current medications handy, she doesn’t mix alcohol with her medications and she never shares medications with anyone else. But there’s more she can do, and more that I, as her elder care coordinator, can do to help enhance her safety and avoid more trips to the ER.

Some solutions offered in the inservice include: (1) Know your medications – what condition are they treating, what are the potential side effects and possible drug interactions. (2) Take all medications only as prescribed. (3) For my client who keeps an accurate listing of all current medications – make sure that all treating physicians have that list, so they can be on the lookout for drug interactions. (4) Ask health care professionals if there are programs to help pay for medications if you don’t have health insurance. For additional information, contact

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