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Medication Management Tips for Seniors

14 minute readLast updated May 15, 2024
fact checkedon May 15, 2024
Written by Kevin Ryan, senior living writer
Medically reviewed by Brooke Schmidt, RN, BSNBrooke Schmidt is a registered nurse with over 10 years of clinical experience specializing in geriatrics and palliative care.
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Older adults often take multiple medications which can increase their risk of medication mix-ups. As a caregiver, learning how to properly manage your loved one’s medications is critical in effectively carrying out their care plan says Doctor Ardeshir Hashmi, Section Chief of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine. He notes that caregivers can help by keeping their loved ones on goal-directed medical therapy, track signs of complications, and identify potentially harmful medications. Dr. Hashmi recommends the following elderly medication management tips for caregivers.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Review your loved one’s medications with their doctor. Ask their doctor about possible drug interactions, side effects, and proper dosages.
  2. Assist your loved one with medication organization. Create reminders by utilizing pill boxes or technology, secure high-risk drugs, and throw away expired medications.
  3. Research medications that may be unsafe for seniors. Ask your loved one’s doctor about unsafe medications and review the Beers Criteria list of inappropriate medications.
  4. Talk to your senior loved one about self-prescribing. Taking extra prescribed medications or mixing over-the-counter drugs can lead to complications of a condition or accidental overdoses.

Review your senior loved one’s medications with their doctor

Request a complete list of the medications your loved one takes from their care team. Make sure the list includes instructions on how frequently drugs should be taken and the dosages. Add any over-the-counter drugs and supplements to the list. Review the full list of medications with your loved one’s doctor, being sure to ask the following questions:[01]

  • What drugs and supplements could potentially cause negative interactions? This could include negative interactions with each other or substances like alcohol. Negative drug interactions can be dangerous and can increase the risk of falling and fall-related injuries, such as hip fractures.
  • Are there food recommendations related to taking a certain medications? For example, some medications need to be taken with food or on an empty stomach. With some medications, certain foods should be avoided.
  • What are the possible side effects of the medications and supplements? For example, should a senior avoid driving because a certain medications or supplements can cause drowsiness?
  • What specific condition does each medication treat? If there are several medications that treat the same condition, ask if any can be eliminated to simplify a senior’s regimen.
  • Are dosages age appropriate? The way the body processes various drugs changes with age, and seniors can be more or less sensitive to certain medications.

The regular use of five or more medications is referred to as polypharmacy which may contribute to issues including drug related complications and increased risk of falls. An assessment with a doctor can help reduce the risks associated with polypharmacy.[02]

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Help your senior loved one organize their medications

All individuals will benefit from assistance organizing their medications. If your senior loved one is living with a cognitive impairment, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important that they have their medications carefully managed and monitored. Medications work best when taken consistently, as directed by a doctor. When taken incorrectly, medications can be harmful or even fatal.

Caregivers can help manage their senior loved one’s medications using the following steps:

  • Utilize reminder tools to help seniors remember when to take medications. This may include using a simple pill box organizer, an app on a phone, calendar reminders, a medication dispenser, or other assistive devices for seniors.
  • Throw away expired or unused medications. This can help reduce confusion and the risk of drug interactions.
  • Store high-risk medications in a secure area. This step can help reduce the risk of an accidental overdose.
  • Minimize a loved one’s number of doctors and pharmacists. Having a primary care provider — such as a family physician or geriatrician — can help simplify care coordination and communication with specialists.

Be aware of medications deemed unsafe for seniors

Some medications pose a high risk of side effects or interactions in seniors, while others may be less effective. Dr. Hashmi recommends seniors consult with their doctor before using cold and allergy medications and any sleep-inducing medications.

The Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults — put together by the American Geriatric Society — provides a list of medications that older adults should avoid or use with caution. Having a printout or digital version of this list to review is a good idea when you speak with your loved one’s doctor. It can also be helpful to reference for when your loved one is prescribed new medications. The following examples of the types of medications that can be found in the Beers Criteria of inappropriate medications for seniors:

  • Antihistamines
  • Anticholinergics
  • Antibiotics
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Respiratory medications
  • Hormone medications

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Review the dangers of self-prescribing with your loved one

Self-prescribing is when an individual increases the dose or frequency of a medication with the thought that it will treat a symptom faster. Self-prescribing may also include adding an over-the-counter medication to get quicker relief. This behavior increases the risk of harm caused by overdosing or drug interactions.[03]

Dr. Hashmi notes that it’s essential for caregivers to stress the importance of taking medications as prescribed. If a medication isn’t providing the expected relief, the first step should always be to ask for advice from a doctor.

Monitor for Prescription Medication Hoarding and Borrowing or Sharing (PMHBS)

Hoarding, sharing, or borrowing medications is a behavior among some seniors who are taking several medications. If you notice your senior loved one is hoarding prescriptions, self-medicating, or misusing opioids and other types of medications, you may need to step in. Work on educating them about the dangers associated with PMHB, which can include the following:[04]

  • Allergic reactions
  • Dangerous interactions with another medication
  • Drug addiction
  • Overdose
  • New health problems
  • Worsening of existing health problems
  • Masking symptoms

Help finding support for a senior loved one

Mismanagement of medications among adults 65 and older is seven times more likely to lead to hospitalization than younger people.[05] Assisting your senior loved one to manage their medications can help reduce the risks of an accident. If your loved one continues to struggle with their medications, even with your assistance, you may want to consider additional help.

Home care and other senior living options, such as assisted living, can provide your loved one help with medication management, supervision, and assistance with their daily activities. If you’re interested in learning more about professional senior care, A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors can help. They’ll provide you with information on local care options that fit your loved one’s needs and budget — all at no cost to your family.


  1. National Institute on Aging. (2022. September 22). Safe use of medicines for older adults.

  2. Hoel, R.W., Connolly, R.M.G., Takahashi, P.Y. (2020, June 12). Polypharmacy management in older patientsMayo Clinic Proceedings.

  3. Ghodkhande,K.P., Choudhari, S.G., Gaidhane, A. (2023, July 15). Self-medication practices among the geriatric population: A systematic literature reviewCureus.

  4. Dawson, S., Johnson, H., Huntley, A.L., Turner, K.M., McCahon, D. (2024, March). Understanding non-recreational prescription medication-sharing behaviours: a systematic reviewBritish Journal of General Practice.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 6). Adverse drug events in adults.

Meet the Author
Kevin Ryan, senior living writer

Kevin Ryan is a content specialist at A Place for Mom, focused on home care topics that include defining the differences between home care and other senior care types, home care costs, and how to pay. Kevin’s desire to support seniors and their families stems from his previous career as a teacher, plus his experience as a writer and community journalist.

Edited by

Marlena Gates

Reviewed by

Brooke Schmidt, RN, BSN

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