The Color of Pills May Cause Medication Errors for Seniors

Most seniors take medications to help manage their health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and heart disease. But it’s so important to take medications correctly. If drugs aren’t taken at the right time, or at the recommended dose, or in the right way, they may be ineffective against the condition they were prescribed for.

Taking too much of a medication can result in serious, even life-threatening side effects. Overmedication, a major concern with many seniors, can occur if a person fails to stop using a drug when directed by the prescriber; uses another person’s medications; takes a medication in excess of recommended dosage; or uses a number of different medications which have a similar effect. Some drugs can also interact seriously with certain other drugs.

Why is taking medications safely such a challenge for many older adults? A big reason is that they take many medications. According to the American Medical Association, up to 40 percent of people over age 65 take five or more prescriptions. Confusion and memory loss are also factors. And recently, an Ohio State University College of Pharmacy researcher reported that visual changes mean that seniors may have trouble telling pills apart by color.

As we grow older, color vision diminishes. We are less able to tell pills apart by color alone. Researcher Lindsay Skomrock hopes drug companies will take this research into account, and suggests that physicians consider the color of pills when prescribing drugs for seniors. Family caregivers can help seniors keep medications straight by using pill dispensers or containers with compartments. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist for more suggestions.

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