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Managing medications at home

It can be challenging for many people to keep track of all the medications and supplements they need to take.

Turn on the television and you're likely to be inundated with commercials for the latest prescription medications that should be discussed with a doctor. According to Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Lives, Minds, and Bodies, by Greg Crister, the average number of prescriptions drugs taken per person, annually, in 2004 was 12. It is estimated that people will spend over $400 billion on prescription drugs by the end of 2011. Individuals who take multiple medications may find it difficult to manage them all.

The challenge of managing medications can be difficult for anyone but particularly for seniors. Some organizational strategies and a little help from others may be the keys to getting meds straight.

First and foremost, it's important that doctors and pharmacists know of all the medications that are being taken. It's a good idea to use one pharmacy to fill prescriptions. This way it will have a record of medication use and can alert to drug interactions that may be dangerous, which could otherwise go undetected. And remember, over-the-counter supplements, vitamins and medicines count, too. They should be mentioned at the doctor's office or, at the very least, when getting a new prescription filled at the pharmacy. Herbal remedies and other items -- even foods -- can interact with certain drugs. For example, it's best to avoid grapefruit juice while taking many of the cholesterol-lowering statins available.

Purchasing a medication organizer can be the next step to getting drugs in check. There are a number of different styles and sizes available. Seniors may want to enlist the help of a family member to sort through pills at the beginning of each week and place the right pills in each compartment.

Knowing which days to take each medication is sometimes not enough. Certain medications must be taken at different intervals each day, often inviting confusion. A chart listing the times of each medication posted next to where the prescriptions are kept can help. A watch with a timer or an alarm clock can be programmed to chime as a reminder. Tech-savvy people can program smart phones or PDAs with reminders to alert when it's time to take a pill. There are even advanced pill dispensing systems that can be programmed to dispense medication according to a set schedule. The Maya from is one to consider or the Philips Medication Dispensing Service at

People who are worried about an elderly relative can enlist the help of medication reminder services that can call or message a person to keep track of pills. They also may provide reminders about doctors' appointments.

There are a number of options available to help make organizing care a little easier. Safety should be the top priority when there are many different medications that need to be taken.

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