Staying Safe at Home: Avoiding Overmedication

Staying Put at Home Tips for Senior HealthThe average 75 year old takes more than 10 prescription drugs.1 The use of four or more medications is known as polypharmacy. When using multiple medications, seniors run the risk of overmedicating, which can lead to falls, kidney failure and heart attacks. From 2007 to 2009, there were an estimated 99,628 emergency hospitalizations annually for adverse drug events in individuals 65 years and older.2 Not properly adhering to medication regimens is also a major cause of nursing home placement of frail older adults. Elder care attorney and gerontologist Susan B Geffen mentions in her Raising UP Your Parents seminar that polypharmacy can lead to dizziness and falls. This week, Staying Put at Home will look at what you can do to make sure you stick to your prescription schedule and avoid overmedication.

Make A List

How many different medications are you taking? Can you name them all off the top of your head? Even if you can, we still strongly urge you to catalog all of your medication. Overmedication and complications with polypharmacy often arise from uncertainty. Making a list will give you a document you can consult whenever you might get confused. Along with your medications, list any over-the-counter products, vitamins and herbal supplements you take. Just because you can buy something over the counter does not make it less potent than a prescription drug. Furthermore, over-the-counter products can have adverse reactions when mixed with prescription drugs. Keep this list up to date, as one omitted drug could cause unwanted side effects. Make sure that your list is in an easy-to-find place in case of emergency.

When you write your list, make sure you include the following information for each medication:

  • Name and strength of the medication
  • Dosage instructions, including frequency, time of day and food intake
  • Color of the pill
  • Why you are taking it
  • When you started taking it
  • Any food or drug interactions
  • Doctor who prescribed it

Consult Your Pharmacist or Physician

As you age, it is common to have numerous doctors and specialists monitoring your health. With so many doctors, your prescriptions can stack up. Health care professionals often do not consult one another before writing prescriptions, meaning that they may not be aware of all the drugs you are taking. This oversight could lead to overmedication if you are not careful. In order to prevent this, use your list to go over all your medications with your pharmacist or physician. This person should know which drugs will have harmful interactions. Also, use just one pharmacy for all your prescriptions. That way, they will have a record of all the medications you are taking and can alert you to any potential drug interactions.

Do Your Research

A little work now could pay off later. Check all the possible side effects or potential ailments that your medication could induce. Also, always ask your doctors about any potential issues when they are writing your prescriptions and make sure they clearly explain the information. Medication awareness lets you know exactly what you are putting in your body.

Use A Pillbox

A pillbox is a simple tool you can use to stay on top of your medication. Like with a list, keeping your medications organized in one place will help you remember whether you have taken the correct daily dosages. Skipping drugs can have major health consequences, leading to lengthy stays in the hospital. Pill timers can also be useful for reminding you when to take your medication, especially if you have short term memory trouble. If you have a smartphone, consider getting an app that will remind you when to take your medication.

We hope that these tips will help you avoid overmedication and any complications with polypharmacy. If you believe you are suffering from these conditions, visit your doctor or pharmacist immediately. Have any tips that we did not include? Then please share them in our comment section.

1. Digging In On Issue of Overmedicated Seniors | Return to Text
2. Overmedicating The Elderly – The New Epidemic | Return to Text

Aging in Place Essentials: Part 5 – How To Make Your Bathroom Safer

Staying Put at Home Tips for Home Safety As we have mentioned elsewhere on Staying Put at Home, a safe bathroom is critical to Aging in Place. This week, we have a few more suggestions for how to improve the safety of your bathroom.

Remove Tripping & Slipping Hazards

In 2009, bathroom slips, trips and falls accounted for over 230,000 nonfatal injuries in the US.1 These accidents are particularly dangerous for the elderly, as falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries.2 Here are several ways to avoid these mishaps in your bathroom:

  • Replace throw rugs with nonslip mats and pads around your plumbing fixtures
  • To reduce slipping, have flooring that is matte-finished, textured tile or low pile commercial carpet
  • Wipe up wet spots immediately
  • Wear proper footwear

Install the Right Toilet

Having a toilet that properly fits you can make your bathroom much easier and safer to use. A toilet between 14 and 16 inches off the ground can cause pain for those with arthritis and back, knee and hip problems. The National Association of Home Building recommends installing a toilet that is 2 ½ inches higher (17-19 inches) than the standard sized toilet.3 This should make it easier for you to stand up and sit down. Also consider the following ideas to make your toilet safer and more comfortable:

  • Installing an elevated toilet seat or toilet seat riser from Home Depot or another home improvement retailer so that you don’t have to replace your entire toilet
  • Covering your seat with a soft toilet seat cushion
  • Having a toilet seat color that contrasts with the rest of the toilet and the surroundings to make it easier to see where you are going to be seated
  • Installing a Kohler nightlight toilet seat so that your toilet shines in the dark and is easy to find at night
  • Using grab bars with nonslip grips on adjacent walls or armrests on your toilet’s sides to easily get up and to stabilize yourself
  • Making sure toilet paper rolls are within reach and can be changed easily

Walk-in Tubs

Depending on your needs, a walk-in tub could be one of the safest investments you make. Here are a few practical reasons why a walk-in tub can improve your health and lead to a safer bathing experience:

  • The low threshold makes it easier to get in and out, greatly reducing the chance of losing your balance
  • Many walk-in tubs have nonslip floors
  • A walk-in tub seat allows you to sit down and relax, and it is easier to stand up and get out of your tub
  • In-tub grab bars can provide stable support, which you won’t find in a standard bathtub
  • Warm water bathing relieves arthritis pain,4 alleviating stiffness in arthritis sufferers and saving money on health care and physical therapy
  • Soaking in a warm bath increases heart rate while lowering blood pressure5
  • Bathing improves blood circulation, strengthens your immune system and gives you more energy.6 Increased blood circulation promotes cell growth, organ function and healthy skin.7
  • Water therapy can help in recovery from strokes,8 connective tissue diseases9 and other respiratory related problems
  • A warm bath before bed time promotes drowsiness and relaxes muscles, resulting in a good night’s sleep10
  • Studies show that those with Type II diabetes who used warm water therapy reported a reduction in blood sugar levels, improved sleep and an increased sense of well-being11
  • Warm water immersion can protect the heart from arrhythmia and strengthen the heart muscle12
  • Water therapy can alleviate back, knee and hip pain
  • A relaxing bath can soothe hemorrhoids, varicose veins and tendinitis
  • Many walk-in tubs have a detachable hand-shower that makes it easier for bathers to get to those hard-to-reach areas

Roll-in Showers

For those who have mobility challenges and require a wheelchair, getting over a walk-in tub’s threshold may not be feasible. Roll-in showers do not have a barrier so that the transition from your wheelchair to your shower is less challenging. In these circumstances, a roll-in shower may be a more appropriate choice. Consider all your options when contemplating whether to install a walk-in tub or roll-in shower in your bathroom. While a roll-in shower may offer more convenience, they lack the water therapy and bathing benefits of walk-in tubs.

General Safety Tips

Creating a safe bathroom does not stop at your toilet, bathtub or shower. We have some advice for safety-proofing the rest of your restroom:

  • Don’t rush; move at a comfortable, leisurely pace so that you don’t accidentally slip
  • Select grab bars that contrast with the walls to increase visibility
  • Never use towel racks as grab bars, as they are not sturdy enough to support your weight
  • If you are unable to install grab bars where you need them, install a vertical support pole from your floor to your ceiling
  • Have a well-lit bathroom, but use non-glare lighting to keep your vision clear and unobstructed
  • Install an illuminated light switch next to your door so that you can find it in the dark
  • Install a plug-in nightlight that will turn on automatically when the bathroom is dark
  • Make your toiletries easy to reach
  • Remove or pad sharp edges on your countertop
  • Lower your bathroom cabinets by 3 to 5 inches so that your shelves are easier to access
  • Turn your water heater to below 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid burns
  • Don’t leave appliances plugged in around plumbing fixtures
  • Purchase a waterproof phone in case you need to call someone in an emergency
  • Always check your medications to make sure that they have not expired
  • Install GFCI electrical outlets in your bathroom so that you lower the risk of electrocution

Keeping a safe, comfortable bathroom makes Aging in Place much more effective. Check back in at Staying Put at Home for future articles on keeping your home safe, and take a look at the other entries in our series on Aging in Place:

Aging in Place Essentials

  1. Introduction
  2. Making Your Home Safer & More Comfortable
  3. How Can Aging in Place Save You Money?
  4. Maintaining & Modifying Your Home: Who Can Help?
  5. How To Make Your Bathroom Safer

1. Thousands of Injuries Occur in Bathroom Each Year, CDC Reports | Return to Text
2. Falls Among Older Adults: An Overview | Return to Text
3. Aging-In-Place Remodeling Checklist | Return to Text
4. Warm Water Works Wonders on Pain | Return to Text
5. Foundational Lifestyle Strategies to Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure | Return to Text
6. 5 Tips To Improve Blood Circulation | Return to Text
7. Benefits of Increased Blood Circulation | Return to Text
8. The Effect of Aquatic Therapy on Postural Balance and Muscle Strength in Stroke Survivors | Return to Text
9. Tips for Getting the Most Out of the Oldest Form of Therapy | Return to Text
10. Bedtime Behaviors That Work: 7 Habits That Will Prepare Your Body for Sleep | Return to Text
11. Hot Tub Therapy For People With Diabetes | Return to Text
12. Immersion in Warm Water Induces Improvement in Cardiac Function in
Patients with Chronic Heart Failure
| Return to Text

Aging in Place Essentials: Part 4 – Maintaining & Modifying Your Home: Who Can Help?

Staying Put at Home Tips for Senior HealthAs you have gotten older, many of your household tasks may have become much harder and more dangerous than they once were. Now, you don’t have to do it alone. In Part 4 of our Aging in Place series, we will look at how you can maintain and modify your home with a little help from Aging in Place Villages, occupational therapists and certified aging in place specialists (CAPS).

Aging in Place Villages

Aging in Place Villages link together independently living seniors. Although a Village might sound like senior housing, residents live in their own homes and take advantage of the village’s support structure. The goal of a Village is to offer the amenities of assisted living without making seniors leave their home. Members pay an annual rate for services like:

  • Housework
  • Transportation
  • Computer and paperwork assistance
  • Meal Delivery
  • Shopping with other members
  • Referrals to vetted contractors
  • Gardening and yard cleanup

Do you need to change a light bulb but don’t want to climb a ladder? Then just call someone from your Village to come over. Villages have many volunteers, so there are younger members who can help you finish your housework. The annual rate for membership varies from a few hundred dollars to about $1000, but many Villages have options for low-income seniors.1 Many Villages have volunteer-first models, in which certain members are responsible for administration. Some Villages hire an administrator so that there is someone running the whole operation. Each Village offers different services, so contact your local Village to learn more.

The Village movement began in 2002 when the Beacon Hill Village enrolled its first members.2 Since then, 150 villages have begun across the country, with 120 more in development.3 In a UC Berkeley study, 55 to 80% of seniors said that their Village had improved their quality of life.4 Joining an Aging in Place Village might make it easier for you to take care of those tough household tasks.

Occupational Therapists

An occupational therapist figures out a person’s goals, tries to make it easier to perform daily activities and evaluates if these goals have been met. If you have vision impairments, restricted mobility or other ailments, occupational therapists can also suggest modifications to make it easier to get around your home. Here are some ways that occupational therapists might assist you Age in Place:

  • Recommend furniture arrangements so that you have clear walkways
  • Develop a plan for you to make it easier to access your frequently used items
  • Teach you basic exercises to strengthen your mobility and make it less difficult to move around your home
  • Label your drawers to make it easier to remember where you keep items
  • Find out how to reduce glare in your home

Occupational therapists provide an individualized service. Each home is evaluated to find the best way to make it fit its homeowner. Physicians and other medical care professionals can refer you to an occupational therapist in your area.

Medicare Part B can also help pay for medically necessary occupational therapy. The therapy cap limit for an occupational therapist is $1,940 per year.5 However, if your therapist or therapy provider provides documentation that your therapy was medically reasonable and necessary, then your Medicare will continue to cover its share above the yearly $1,940 cap limit. As part of the exceptions process, there are additional limits (called “thresholds”). If you get outpatient therapy services higher than the threshold amounts, a Medicare contractor will review your medical records to ensure your therapy was a medical necessity. The threshold amount for 2015 is $3,700.

Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS)

A certified aging in place specialist will look at your home and evaluate which areas need to be safer. They are trained to understand what tools and modifications are needed to safely Age in Place. CAPS professionals are trained and certified by the National Association of Home Builders.6 The training process to become a CAPS professional lasts three days and includes classes on communication and building solutions. Certified aging in place specialists also have to complete 12 hours of education every three years. These specialists are not medical or health care professionals. They tend to be occupational therapists, architects or remodelers.

A certified aging in place specialist could help if you are asking yourself these questions:

  • Am I able to bathe without being afraid that I will slip?
  • Could I get a walker or wheelchair through my doorway?
  • How can I safely reach high shelves?
  • Do I need to install grab bars and handrails?
  • How can I get up my stairs safely?

Maintaining your home and modifying it to fit your needs are important aspects of Aging in Place. We hope that the services outlined here will make it easier to keep yourself safe and comfortable in your home as you grow older. Check back in at Staying Put at Home to see the final part of our series on Aging in Place:

Aging in Place Essentials

  1. Introduction
  2. Making Your Home Safer & More Comfortable
  3. How Can Aging in Place Save You Money?
  4. Maintaining & Modifying Your Home: Who Can Help?
  5. How To Make Your Bathroom Safer

1. Retirement Villages: Aging in Community | Return to Text
2. About Beacon Hill Village | Return to Text
3. About VTV Network | Return to Text
4. ‘Village’ Movement for Aging Seniors Faces Some Challenges | Return to Text
5. Medicare Limits on Therapy Services | Return to Text
6. What is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist? | Return to Text