Getting a handle on prescription medications
October 1, 2017
Dear Savvy Senior: I’m concerned that my 80-year-old mother is taking too many medications. She currently takes 10 different drugs prescribed by three different doctors, which I think is causing her some problems. She also struggles to keep up with all the drug costs. Any suggestions? - Concerned Daughter
Dear Concerned: There’s no doubt that older Americans are taking more prescription medications than ever before. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, around 40 percent of seniors, age 65 and older, take five or more medications. And the more drugs a person takes, the higher their risk for medication problems, and the more likely they are to take something they don’t need.
Brown bag review
To help you get a better handle on the medications your mom is taking, gather up all her pill bottles – include all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements – and put them in a bag and take them to her primary doctor or pharmacist for a thorough drug checkup. This “brown-bag review’ will give you a chance to check for duplicate meds, excessive doses and dangerous interactions, and for you to ask questions.
Medicare Part B covers free yearly medication reviews with a doctor through their annual wellness visits, and many Medicare Part D plans cover medication reviews with a pharmacist too.
You should also note that Oct. 21, is “National Check Your Meds Day.” A number of pharmacies – Albertsons, Costco, CVS, Sam’s Club, Target, Walmart and many independents – have agreed to support the effort. Some may even have extra staff on hand to help you review your meds. Ask your local pharmacy whether it is participating.
When you get your mom’s review, go over the basics for each medication or supplement, such as what it’s for, how long she should take it, what it costs, and any side effects and potential interactions. Also ask if there are any meds she can stop taking, and find out if there are any nondrug options that might be safer, and whether she can switch to a lower dose.
To help your mom avoid future medication problems, make sure her primary doctor is aware of all the medications, over-the-counter drugs and supplements she takes. You should also keep an updated list of everything she takes and share it with every doctor she sees. And, be sure that your mom fills all her prescriptions at the same pharmacy and informs her pharmacist of any over-the counter, herbal or mail order prescriptions she’s taking so that there is complete oversight of her medications.
How to save
To help cut your mom’s medication costs, there are a number of cost savings tips you can try. For starters, find out if there are any generic alternatives to the drugs she currently takes. Switching to generics saves anywhere between 20 and 90 percent.
You should also ask your mom’s prescribing doctors if any of the pills she takes could be cut in half. Pill splitting allows you to get two months worth of medicine for the price of one. And for the drugs she takes long-term, ask for a three-month prescription, which isusually cheaper than buying month-to-month.
Because drug prices can vary depending on where you buy them, another way to save is by shopping around (GoodRX.com will help you compare drug prices at U.S. pharmacies), and find out if your mom’s drug insurance plan offers cheaper deals through preferred pharmacies or a mail-order service.
And finally, if your mom’s income is limited, she can probably get help through drug assistance programs offered through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations. To find these types of programs use BenefitsCheckUp.org.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.