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Senior Medication Safety: A Guide to Medication Management for Elderly Adults

Written by Leslie Kernisan
 about the author
10 minute readLast updated February 25, 2024

Have you found yourself eyeing your parent’s growing collection of medicine bottles, wondering if you should worry about the potential side effects of mixing medications or what they were prescribed for in the first place? Have you wondered how your parent is keeping them all organized? These are reasonable questions, especially if your parent takes more than five prescription or over-the-counter drugs. To ease your worries and ensure your parent’s safety, use this senior medication safety checklist as a guide for managing their medications effectively.

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Senior medication safety

Inappropriately prescribing medication to older adults is a common occurrence. When patient charts are reviewed, experts often find that seniors are receiving ineffective medications, prescriptions that duplicate the efforts of another medication, or otherwise lack a reason for being prescribed.[01] But why does this happen?
Often, seniors visit multiple doctors for different chronic conditions. Because hospitals can’t freely share patient information and an aging adult might not always bring a comprehensive list of their medications to their new doctor, there can be overlap between the medicines prescribed at each facility. This can cause negative drug interactions.
To reduce the chance of being harmed by inappropriate medications, a senior needs methodical medication management. This can include purchasing a pill dispenser and scheduling regular medication reviews with your loved one’s primary doctor.

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Top 5 medication safety tips for seniors

Before going in for a medication review, here are five things you can do to prepare your loved one’s medication list to prevent common medication mistakes.

1. List all medications your parent is taking, along with the intended purpose of each medication.

If you aren’t sure why a medication is prescribed, make a note to ask the doctor or pharmacist. You may also find that some medications serve more than one purpose. For instance, someone diagnosed with both atrial fibrillation and hypertension is often prescribed diltiazem, which can be used to lower blood pressure as well as keep the heart from racing.
Clarifying the purpose of each medication your parent is taking will make it easier for you and the doctor to figure out whether the medication is still necessary.

2. Make sure medication is treating ailments and symptoms effectively.

When your parent is taking medication for issues like depression, incontinence, or pain, it’s important to regularly check whether their symptoms are improving. If there’s no improvement, this could indicate that their treatment plan needs to be reviewed. This might involve changing the medication, adjusting the dose, or exploring other treatment options.
Alternatively, if the symptoms have improved, it may be time to consider whether the medication can be reduced or even stopped, depending on the condition being treated. For example, high blood pressure often requires ongoing treatment, but other conditions might allow for a decrease in medication to determine whether it’s still necessary.
Remember, medication dosages shouldn’t remain unchanged simply out of habit. Speak to your loved one’s doctor if you notice ineffective medications or medications that may no longer be necessary.

3. Review the American Geriatrics Society Beers Criteria List for potentially dangerous prescriptions.

The American Geriatrics Beers Criteria contains a comprehensive list of medicines that are commonly inappropriately prescribed. Checking this list for your loved one’s medications can help you get a head start on their medication review with a doctor or pharmacist.
If you find that your parent is taking a medication on the Beers Criteria List, it’s important to review the benefits and drawbacks of the medication. It’s also important to ask about non-drug alternatives for treating whatever problem the medication is intended to treat, as adverse drug interactions are one of the most common medication problems in the elderly.

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4. Check for signs of overtreatment, especially for diabetes and high blood pressure.

Seniors often receive higher medication doses than necessary, which can be unsafe, particularly for conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. For instance, too much blood pressure medication can lower an older adult’s blood pressure too much, causing dizziness or increasing the risk of falls.[02]
To prevent overtreatment, it’s essential to know the treatment goals for your parent’s conditions. Based on the most recent expert guidelines, the recommended blood pressure level for men and women 65 and older is 130/80. For diabetes, make sure your loved one’s metrics line up with the ideal range for blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1C.

5. Check for potential adverse drug interactions.

If your parent is on multiple prescription medications, it’s important to look out for potential adverse drug interactions. A simple way to check this is by using a free online drug interaction checker like WebMD’s Drug Interaction Checker. Enter all the medications your parent is taking; if the checker flags any interactions, make a note of them.
It’s a good idea to discuss these medications with your parent’s doctor. You can even print out the interaction report to take to their next appointment. Remember, even over-the-counter medicines and vitamins for seniors can interact with prescription drugs, so it’s crucial to include these in your review as well.

Why you should participate in your parent’s care

By collaborating closely with your parent’s doctor, you play a key role in catching any oversights and ensuring all symptoms and conditions are managed correctly. This collaborative approach helps tailor medical care to your parent’s individual needs.
Health care is most effective when it’s a team effort involving patients, family caregivers, and health care professionals. Learning how to request and prepare for a medication review is an important step in overseeing a crucial aspect of your parent’s health care.


  1. Tariq, R.A., Vashisht, R., Sinha, A., and Scherbak, Y. (2023, May 2). Medication dispensing errors and prevention. StatPearls [Internet].

Meet the Author
Leslie Kernisan

Leslie Kernisan, MD, is a practicing geriatrician who believes that it shouldn't be so hard for older adults and families to get the right kind of help with healt.h concerns. For more practical tips — and to get her free, quick guide to checking aging parents — visit her at BetterHealthWhileAging.net

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