Safety Tips for Seniors

Don't be shy about asking your doctor or pharmacist about your medications. Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about all new prescriptions. General medication safety tips and tips for avoiding medication errors follow.

When the doctor prescribes medication for you

  • When you see your doctor and receive a new medication, ask your doctor to print the name of the new medication on the prescription slip. If you cannot read the prescription drug name, it’s possible that your pharmacist cannot read it either
  • It's important that you know your doctor's name, particularly if this is a new doctor for you. Ask your doctor to print his or her name or circle his or her name on the prescription sheet so that the pharmacist can read it.
  • Ask your doctor for information about your new medication.
  • Ask your doctor to explain more about your new medication, if you do not understand why you are taking a medication.
  • Tell your doctor about all prescription and non-prescription medications you are taking and include over-the-counter, herbal, vitamin, and dietary supplements.
  • Tell your doctor about any allergies you may have.

When picking up your medication

  • Tell your pharmacist about all prescription and non-prescription medications you are taking and include over-the-counter, herbal, vitamin, and dietary supplements.
  • Tell your pharmacist about any allergies you may have.
  • Ask the pharmacist for the patient information sheet explaining your new medication. If you have any questions about your medication, be sure to ask the pharmacist.
  • Look at the label carefully when you get a new medication. If there is information on the label of your medication that you do not understand, ask the pharmacist.
  • Check the labels or ask your pharmacist whether your new prescription medication contains acetaminophen. If it does, check all over-the-counter (OTC) medications you take while using the prescription medication to see if the OTC drug products also contain acetaminophen. Do not take two medications that contain acetaminophen, as this can be an overdose and can lead to liver damage. Adults should not take more than 4 grams (4000 mg) of acetaminophen per day. KnowYourDose.org provides additional information on taking the correct amount of acetaminophen to avoid overdose. Ask your pharmacist if you have questions.
  • Look at your medication label and contents if it is a refill. If the medication looks different from the pills you were taking, tell your pharmacist immediately.
  • Count the pills you are given and make sure the number matches the amount indicated on the label – this is especially important with controlled substances such as pain pills. If you are to receive a 10-day supply of a drug to be taken once a day, for example, make sure there are 10 pills.

When you are taking a medication

  • Remember to turn on the lights and get your glasses. It's easy to mistake one pill bottle for another. Make sure you double check and read the label every time.
  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible if you are experiencing any side effects or changes in the way you feel when taking a new medication.
  • Go to your appointments for scheduled laboratory tests or follow-up visits. Monitoring helps doctors and pharmacists know if your medication is working.

If you take more than one medication

  • Use a pillbox or several pillboxes that hold medications for a week, and label your boxes. Example: AM; Noon; PM; Bedtime. Be sure to keep this out of reach of children.
  • Use a calendar or medication record to help you remember whether you have taken your medications each day and on time.

If you make an error with your medication

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to do if you miss a dose of your medication.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to do if you accidentally take more medicine than is recommended.
  • If you take too much medication or do not feel well after taking your medication and you cannot reach your doctor or pharmacist, call the call the poison control center immediately. Call 800/222-1222 from anywhere in the United States to be connected to a poison control center.

Follow medication safety tips

  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor to review the medications you are taking at least once a year.
  • Carry a medication record with you in your purse or wallet. Particularly, take your medication record with you to doctor's appointments and to your pharmacy when you are picking up new medication(s). The list will remind you of all of the medications you are taking and help the doctor and pharmacist manage your drugs appropriately.
  • Store your medications as instructed by the pharmacist and keep them in their original containers. Place them in a safe place away from heat, moisture, or freezing temperatures, and away from where food is stored. The bathroom cabinet is not the best place for medications. Safe places might be in a linen closet or dresser drawer. Be sure to store them out of sight and reach of children. You may want to lock your medications in a cupboard or a medicine safe, especially to avoid unintentional use or misuse by family or visitors to your home.
  • Keep all medications out of reach of children. Do not believe a safety cap will keep children from opening the medication bottle.
  • Dispose of medications that are expired or unwanted. Medications are considered expired if they are one year from the date the prescription is filled, unless otherwise noted. Do not discard medications where small children or pets can find them. Some medications, such as certain pain pills and fentanyl patches should be flushed down the toilet to avoid children's and pet's accidental exposure. See our Medication Disposal section for more information on how to do this properly.
  • Do not share medications prescribed for you with anyone else.