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Medicines: Use Them Safely

When Jerry, age 71, came home from the drug store with his latest medication, he placed all his pill bottles on the kitchen counter and counted them. “I take seven different medications,” he said to his wife. “We need a system. We need to know what medicines we have, what they’re for, and when we should take them.”

Modern medicine has made our lives better in many ways. It has helped older adults live longer, healthier lives. But people over 65 have to be careful when taking medications, especially when they’re taking many different drugs.

What Are Medicines? What Are Drugs?

Some people refer to the pills they take as “medicine” and other people call them “drugs.” Both words can refer to:

  • medicines you get from a pharmacist with a doctor’s prescription,
  • pills, liquids, or creams you buy without a prescription to use every now and then for aches and pains, or
  • vitamins or dietary supplements you take regularly.

Drugs you get without a doctor’s prescription are called over-the-counter medicines. Because mixing certain medicines can cause problems, be sure to let your doctor know about all the prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking. Keep an updated list of medicines you are taking with you at all times.

Generic or Brand Name?

When getting a prescription filled, you may have a choice between either a generic or brand-name drug. Generic and brand-name medicines are alike because they act the same way in the body and they contain the same active ingredients. The generic version works like the brand-name in dosage, safety, strength, performance, and use. Generic drugs often cost less.

If you want a generic drug, ask the pharmacist if that’s a choice. Not all drugs are available in the generic form.

At Your Doctor’s Office

You’ve gone to your doctor because you don’t feel well. The doctor decides a medicine will help and writes a prescription. What should you do next?


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