Getting a Handle on Prescription Medications


I'm concerned that my 80-year-old mother is taking too many medications. She currently takes 10 different drugs prescribed by three different doctors. I think this may be causing some problems. She also struggles to keep up with all the drug costs. Any suggestions?

There is no doubt that older Americans are taking more prescription medications than ever before. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, around 40% of seniors, age 65 and older, take five or more medications. The more medications one takes, the higher the risk of drug-related problems and the more likely the individual is taking a medication that he or she does not need.

Brown Bag Review

To help you get a better handle on the medications your mom is taking, gather all of her pill bottles and put them in a bag to take to her primary doctor or pharmacist for a thorough drug checkup. You will want to include all prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements. This "brown bag review" will give you a chance to ask questions, check for duplicate meds, excessive doses and dangerous interactions.

Medicare Part B covers free yearly medication reviews with a doctor through its annual wellness visits. Additionally, many Medicare Part D plans cover medication reviews with a pharmacist, as well.

During your mom's review, you will want to make sure that you go over the basics for each medication or supplement so that you understand what the prescription is for, how long she should take it, what it costs and if there are any side effects or potential interactions. Also, ask if there are any meds that your mom can stop taking, if there are any nonprescription options that might be safer and whether she can switch to a lower dose.

To help your mom avoid future medication problems, make sure her primary doctor is aware of all the medications, over-the-counter drugs and supplements she takes. You should also keep an updated list of everything she takes and share it with every doctor she sees. Be sure that your mom fills all of her prescriptions at the same pharmacy and informs her pharmacist of any over-the counter, herbal or mail-order prescriptions she is taking so that there is complete oversight of her medications.

How To Save

To help cut your mom's medication costs, there are a number of cost-saving ideas you can consider. Find out if there are any generic alternatives. Switching to generic medications can save anywhere between 20 and 90%.

You should ask your mom's prescribing doctors if any of the pills she takes could be cut in half. Pill splitting would allow her to receive two months' worth of medicine for the price of one month. Also, for the drugs she takes long-term, ask for a three-month prescription, which is usually cheaper than buying month-to-month.

Because drug prices can vary depending on where you buy them, another way to save is by shopping around ( will help you compare drug prices at U.S. pharmacies). You may also want to find out if your mom's drug insurance plan offers better prices through preferred pharmacies or mail-order services.

Finally, if your mom's income is limited, she may be eligible to get help through medication assistance programs offered through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations. To find these types of programs use

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Make a Difference
Imagination Library
Youh Foundation
Donate Now
education Matters
CF standards
Video Page
Mailing List

Washington County
Community Foundation

1707 North Shelby Street
Salem, Indiana 47167
Phone: 812-883-7334

vimeo logo