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What's in Your Mom's Medicine Chest?
May 04, 2012 09:25AM
I have just brought my mother home from the hospital. Her medicine chest has medicines she has been using for a long time. She has been asked to continue with the same medicines. Should I throw the ones from the medicine chest and replace them with fresh supplies of the same?
Senior Medications Experts, Dr. William Simonson
I'm sorry that your mother was in the hospital and hope she is doing well. I'll give you two answers to your question. The first has to do with expired medications. It's always a good idea to periodically check the expiration dates on all prescription and nonprescription medicines, especially if they have been purchased some time ago. While some medicines maintain their effectiveness after the expiration date printed on the container, some expired medicines may decompose and become less effective or contribute to harmful side effects. My advice here is to avoid purchasing large quantities of medications that might not be consumed within a reasonable period of time, periodically check the expiration dates, and discard expired products.
The next response pertains to medicines that have been used for a long time. Some prescription drugs such as thyroid supplements will likely be taken for a person's entire life, perhaps with periodic dosage adjustments. Other medications, such as those for intestinal ulcers, may only be needed for a period of weeks. However, I have often seen situations where medicines are started and continued unnecessarily, for many months or even years! There are many reasons for this happening including being cared for by multiple doctors or by having prescriptions with many refills. To prevent this from happening I strongly advise performing a periodic review of all medicines to see if they are still needed and still appropriate. To perform this review here are some simple questions to ask:
What is this medicine for?
Everyone should be aware of the reason for taking any medicine.
Is this medicine still needed?
If there was a specific goal for starting this medicine, such as helping to heal an intestinal ulcer, it may no longer be needed if that goal has been achieved so it could be time to stop it.
Could any symptoms be caused by one of more medicines being taken?
Unfortunately, medicines are associated with many side effects which sometimes are not recognized. Asking this simple question can help to identify medicines that might be causing side effects.
Are there non-drug options that can be used instead of the medicine?
Sometimes alternatives such as changes in diet or exercise can take the place of certain medicines.
If you have any concerns after considering these questions discuss them with your health care professional. If they can’t give you a good reason why each of the medicines is still needed, or if they think a medicine might be causing a side effect this discussion might help you reduce the expense and potential danger of taking unnecessary medicines.
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Dr. William Simonson (also known as “Dr. Si”) is an independent consultant pharmacist with 30+ years experience in senior medication issues. He is board-certified in geriatric pharmacy, is a Senior Research Professor (Pharmacy Practice) at Oregon State University and maintains an active long-term care pharmacy practice. For more information, go to
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