Are there medicines that I shouldn’t take? How can I avoid taking them?

You should definitely stay away from any medicines you’re allergic to or that have caused you problems in the past. For example, if you are allergic to penicillin, taking amoxicillin (a type of penicillin) would be a very BAD IDEA.

Some medicines don't mix well with others. This can cause problems if one of the medicines is a common one that is available without a prescription, like taking ibuprofen for a headache when you take a prescription blood thinner. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you if any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines shouldn’t be taken with your current prescription medications.

As we age, our bodies change in ways that affect how we react to prescription and non-prescription medicines. The older we get, the less medication it takes to affect us. As a result, we become more likely to experience the “dark side” of taking drugs: annoying or dangerous side effects.

Getting older makes us more sensitive to the side effects of medication. Medications given to us to help us avoid health-related issues in the future can begin to cause us confusion, dizziness, and problems with our balance.

Side effects from medications can seriously threaten your ability to live independently, especially those affecting your thinking, memory, or balance. 13% of all hospitalizations are related to prescription medicines and happen most often to people over 65 years of age.

One way to minimize potential problems with medicine is to start with a lower dose, often one-half of the usual starting dose. This is particularly helpful for people who are very elderly or “sensitive” to medicines.

Using less medicine in an older person is not always enough to avoid problems. For example, some medications can cause confusion, memory problems, lightheadedness, and falls, even at low doses. In addition, these medicines are dangerous because by increasing the risk of falls, they can impact a senior's ability to live independently.

Problems with medications in older people were a particular concern of Dr. Mark H. Beers. With his patients who lived in nursing homes, he noticed that some commonly prescribed medicines caused them to become confused and fall down. As Dr. Beers kept track of which medications were associated with those problems, he built up a list of medicines that he felt caused more harm than good when given to older people.

First published in 2009, Dr. Beers’ list of problem medicines became known as the Beers List, or Beers’ Criteria. It included medications causing sedation, such as sleeping pills, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and muscle relaxants. After his death, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) updated the list to include medicines that affect ALL older adults, not just those living in nursing homes. Now called the AGS Beers Criteria, you can determine if you take medication from that list at

Here are 6 Tips on Avoiding Medicines You Shouldn’t Take:

1.       Just say no to taking another person’s prescription medicines.

A medicine that is perfectly fine for someone else could be deadly for you. It could be very similar to something you are allergic to or something that shouldn't be combined with your current medicines.

2.       Keep a list.

Make and keep a list of all your medications and any allergies, particularly what reaction(s) they caused.

3.       Keep your doctors in the know.

Always bring a complete list of ALL your medicines and supplements to EVERY doctor’s visit, and mention any new medications prescribed by someone else. Not knowing which medicines you’re taking opens the door to being given something very similar. This can create dangerous side effects if you end up taking both at the same time.

4.       Start low and go slow.

When starting a new medicine, ask your doctor if you can start at the lowest dose possible. This usually means cutting a tablet in half and taking it like that for the first week or so. Then, if you are not having any problems, you can increase your dose up to taking the whole pill.

5.       Speak up! Be a "Squeaky Wheel."

If you've noticed any changes in your thinking or balance since either starting one of your medicines or having its dose increased, don't suffer in silence. Instead, contact your doctor and inform them about it.

6.       Don’t stop your medicines on your own.

Don’t stop any medicine you are already taking just because it’s on a list! Check with your doctor first. Many medications should be tapered, not stopped cold turkey.

Dr. Louise Achey, Doctor of Pharmacy, is a 40-year veteran of pharmacology and author of Why Dogs Can’t Eat Chocolate: How Medicines Work and How YOU Can Take Them Safely. Get clear answers to your medication questions at her website and blog

® 2021 Louise Achey


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