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Seniors and Medication III – 12 Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist


What I know about shots and medications wouldn’t fill a thimble. I, therefore, have to rely on the expertise of my doctor and the pharmacist. I’m sure this is true for most people. This default position, though, can be a slippery slope. It’s not a bad idea to trust their judgment, but we each have to take responsibility and know about the medications we’re taking, especially seniors. Being your own advocate may be the best defense to ensure that the medication, dosage, and interval fit your needs. To that end, I will be sharing questions we should each be asking our pharmacist.


  • What does this medication do? – Anne Harding,  independent health, wellness and fitness expert, shares in The Healthy that perhaps the first question to ask is why you need it and what it is supposed to do.


  • Is there a generic version?Peg Abernathy, a writer, activist and spokesperson for diabetes awareness, education and legislative reform, advises asking if there is a generic version that may have cost savings. Be sure you know the name of the non-generic drug.


  • Side effects?Kenzo Nakawatase, a freelance journalist, writes in Considerable, an online publication, that it is crucial to know what side effects you might encounter.


  • How many times a day? – The FDA recommends asking how many times a day as well as the maximum number of pills. Too many could be problematic.


  • With or Without Food? Hristina Byrnes, a freelance journalist, writing in 247 Wall Street, lists 20 things your pharmacist wants you to know. Included is if the medication is to be taken with or without food.


  • How long do I take it? – The Veterans Administration advises asking how long you should take it. You don’t want to go past the expiration date.


  • Expiration date? Harvard Health says you want the drug to be 100% effective. Certain drugs will, over time, lose their potency and could have negative side effects.


  • What should I avoid? Joni Sweet, a freelance author, writing in Single Care, recommends always asking if there are activities you should not undertake, like driving or operating heavy machinery, or foods you should stay away from.


  • What interacts with this? Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD and Senior Editorial Pharmacist for, strongly urges you to know not only how this will interact with other medications but also with food.


  • If I miss a dose? Healthcare Associates of Texas recommends asking because you don’t want to double up on a dose. It may be okay to take it when you remember or better to wait until your next scheduled dosage.


  • Where do I store it? Samantha Costa, a health and wellness writer at U.S. News, shares insights from Vincent Hartzell, president of Hartzell’s Pharmacy, “Most medications should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from humidity and direct sunlight or drastic temperature changes. The bathroom is the worst place to store medications because it gets humid when you turn on the shower. Putting them on a window sill is another terrible thought. Some medications, like insulin injections, require refrigeration. Never leave your medication in your car.”


  • How do I dispose of it? Linda Bernstein, Pharm.D, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, recommends, “ask your pharmacist about safe drug disposal. Some medication can be disposed of in a sealable plastic bag with something that makes it unappealing to eat, such as dirt or kitty litter, and put in the trash, while others, should be flushed. Check with your local pharmacy and the public health department about community drug take-back days when you can turn in expired or unused medicines for safe disposal. The Food and Drug Administration also has useful guidelines on drug disposal.”


Some or all of these may be obvious to you, but we too often don’t take the opportunity to ask a few simple questions. I can vividly remember one of my clients who took over 30 pills each day. It was a mess, worsened by the fact that included in her smorgasbord of medication was a diuretic, another appetite suppressant and something else to increase her appetite. In fact, this was true for more than one of my clients.


For many, this is the norm when it comes to managing medications. If we don’t have an advocate or other help, then it is up to us to ask these or other questions that will save us pain, or worse, in the future. If you are a senior or have a senior in your life, I strongly urge you to sit down and look at your current medications, taking steps to ensure they are what you need and are not causing harm. Once you’ve done this, it might be a good idea to make a list of everything you’re taking, keeping it with you at all times either in your wallet or purse.