Medication Safety For Older Adults

Prescription medications become more common as people get older. Adults over 65-years-old take more prescription medications than other age groups. They are prescribed to treat a chronic illness, pain, or as a tool to prevent other illnesses. Our intention is to provide information on medication safety for aging communities.

In general, when taking medications, you want to make sure:

  1. You are taking the correct medication prescribed for the right condition.
  2. The medication is right for you–your age and your diagnosis or conditions.
  3. You take the correct dose for the specified length of time your doctor prescribes.

Understanding and managing medications, an organization for up-to-date information for health and aging by the American Geriatrics Society’s Health In Aging Foundation, explains that medications are processed differently in aging adults than younger people.

Learn how medications work differently in older adults

  • The aging process can change the body’s ability to absorb medications. As a result, an aging body might not be able to break down medications as quickly which means medications stay in the body longer. A lower dose of a medication may be needed.
  • Medication testing is often researched on younger adults. Which means not every medication is right for an aging adult. It is recommended to talk with your pharmacist or doctor about how safe a medication is for your age.
  • Be aware of how lifestyle factors in. Inquire with your medical professional about any alcoholic drinking, smoking habits, dietary decisions or changes you make to your diet. These factors may cause unwanted side effects.
  • Some medications prescribed for one condition might make another condition worse. To reduce risk, older adults with multiple conditions should consult their medical professional about the multiple medial conditions they experience.
  • Similarly, some prescription medications may interact with each other. Prescriptions might influence the negative side effects of others or otherwise decrease benefits.
  • Be aware of food and beverage effects with your medications. Some prescriptions may require taking a beverage or food with the medication, while certain foods or beverages might suppress the efficacy of a medication (for example, grapefruit can affect the metabolism of some medications).

There are certain medications that aging adults over 65 should avoid or take with caution.

Certain medications pose a higher risk of side effects or may not work as well for older people. Some medications may make other medical conditions a person has worse. Prescription medications could potentially cause medication-related problems. While other prescriptions may have harmful effects when taken with certain medications. 

It is important to note that alternative remedies can be harmful to an aging person.      

  • Talk to your doctor about the vitamins, supplements, and doses you are taking. Some vitamins and supplements can cause side effects or complications to prescribed medications.
  • Ask your pharmacist about any potential interactions vitamins or supplements have with each other or on your prescription medications.
  • Talk to your pharmacist about reputable companies to purchase supplements or vitamins from.  

Resources and Tools

View the resources below to learn more about how parents and grandparents can help keep their loved ones safe and educated. Additionally, seniors should read the resources below to proactively learn about how to safely use prescription drugs and opioids if they are prescribed. Seniors should feel empowered to ask their health care providers about alternative treatments if they so wish. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is a United States federal-government research institute whose mission is to “advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health.”  You can learn about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs, and specific studies on and resources for older adults on NIDA’s website

The Centers for Disease Control has many resources on the United States’ Opioid Epidemic. You can find  an explanation of the epidemic, overdose statistics, information about different drugs, and strategies to combat the opioid epidemic on their website. You can learn more about prescription drug use specifically among older adults by reviewing this CDC study. 

Partnership to End Addiction addresses every aspect of substance use and addiction, from prevention to recovery. They empower grandparents and other caregivers with support and guidance using the latest science-based information. They research and advance effective prevention and treatment strategies. They advocate for lifesaving policy changes. Finally, they aspire to change the national conversation around addiction so that no one will feel alone or ashamed to seek help, and everyone has access to the care they need and deserve. is a helpful resource to keep you up to date on health, aging, and medication safety. The website in a product of American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation. is committed to helping older adults and caregivers maintain independence and quality health.  Visit the  Health In Aging website.

The National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging provides opportunities for professional, consumer and government organizations to work together towards improving the availability and quality of mental health preventive and treatment strategies to older Americans and their families through education, research and increased public awareness. Visit the National Coalition on Mental Health & Aging website.