7. Manage your medicines
The older you get, the more medicines you’re likely to take. In fact, older people spend an estimated $3 billion annually on medicines, and the average older person takes six or seven prescription and over-the-counter medicines a day. That’s a lot to keep track of. To help you keep them all straight, make a checklist that includes the names of all the medicines and the times at which you should take them. As you take each dose, check it off the list. Keeping the week’s medicines in a pill box that has a separate compartment for each day can also help you remember to take them.
Be sure to follow the directions for taking your medicines. Don’t leave the doctor’s office or the pharmacy without being sure when and how often you should take your doses and whether to take them with food or on an empty stomach. Also be sure to find out what you should do if you ever forget to take a dose. With some medicines, it’s OK to take a missed dose when you remember it — as long as you remember fairly soon after you were supposed to take it. However, if it’s nearly time for the next scheduled dose, you may be better off skipping the forgotten dose altogether. Taking two doses of insulin too close together, for example, could cause serious hypoglycemia. If you miss a dose of your medicine and aren’t sure what to do, call your doctor or pharmacist.
Many drugs can cause side effects. Some side effects, such as intestinal gas or mild nausea, might be annoying but not medically serious. (In addition, such side effects often subside over time.) Others, however, such as light-headedness or hypoglycemia, can have serious consequences, such as, in this case, falling or having a car accident. Make sure to ask about the possible side effects of the medicines you’re taking so you know what to expect and what to do if you experience severe symptoms. Never stop taking a medicine without consulting your doctor first. Stopping some medicines, such as antibiotics and corticosteroids, before you’re supposed to can be quite harmful. However, if you think you’re having an allergic reaction to your medicine (characterized by hives, itching, swelling or difficulty breathing), contact your doctor immediately.
Some medicines require that you get periodic tests to evaluate whether the drug is working properly. For example, if you take warfarin (brand name Coumadin) to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, you need to get regular blood tests to make sure you’re getting the right dose. Oral diabetes medicines in the thiazolidinedione class, such as pioglitazone (brand name Actos), also require certain blood tests because they have the potential to cause liver damage. If you take one of these drugs to control your blood glucose, read the package insert and talk to your doctor to make sure you’re getting the tests you should have.
Last but not least, many medicines can interact with other ones. An interaction can increase or decrease the effectiveness of one of the drugs or cause unwanted side effects. To prevent drug interactions, make sure that your doctor and your pharmacist know about everything you’re taking — that means all prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, herbs and supplements. It helps to buy all your prescription drugs at one pharmacy, so the pharmacist has a complete list at his fingertips. In addition, once a year, bring all your drugs and supplements to a doctor’s appointment and ask him to check for possible interactions.
8. Stop smoking
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States; the American Lung Association estimates that it’s responsible for one in five deaths each year. Older adults are reported to be less likely to have tried to quit, possibly because many believe that smoking does not harm their health. The fact is that smoking does harm your health — and that quitting smoking has proven health benefits, even for older people. Smoking raises your risk for lung disease and cancer, and, because it narrows your blood vessels, it also increases your chances of developing heart disease or having a stroke. When you stop smoking, your circulation improves immediately and your lungs begin to repair damage from the tar and toxic substances contained in cigarette smoke. One year after quitting, the added risk of heart disease that comes with smoking is reduced by one half, and over time, the risk of stroke, lung disease, and cancer also decrease.
If you currently smoke and are ready to stop, talk to your doctor. You and he can discuss ways to quit successfully. Quit-smoking programs through organizations such as the American Lung Association or the American Heart Association may be available in your community. You can find the phone numbers of your local chapters of these organizations in the phone book or online.