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Ask the Right Questions — and Get the Most from Your Medicines

AARP's medication "toolkit" can help

If you're like most older adults, you take prescription drugs to maintain your health or treat a condition. But how much do you know about the medications you take?

See also: Have a medication question? Ask the pharmacist.

Take a look at these tips on how to keep track of your medications wisely for good health and safety.

1. Talk to Your Doctor and Pharmacist — Ask Questions

When it comes to your health, there is no right or wrong question. Asking questions gives you a chance to understand what you are taking and why. Here are just a few to start with:

  • What is the medication called?
  • What is the medication supposed to do?
  • What are the side effects of the medication?
  • When do I start and stop taking the medication?
  • How do I take the medicine? (e.g. With or without food?)
  • Will the medication work safely with the other medications I am taking?
  • Can non-drug actions help my symptoms, in addition to, or instead of, this drug therapy?
  • Are there other medications I can use instead?
  • How does this medicine compare to others in terms of safety, effectiveness and price?

2. Conversation is the Best Medicine — Know What to Say

  • Write down your questions and bring them with you to your appointment.
  • Ask questions about each drug that you take.
  • Bring both your questions and answers to your doctor and pharmacist.

It's important for you to tell your doctor about all the medications you take – including prescriptions, over-the-counter products, and vitamins and herbal supplements. The best way to keep track of your medications, and help keep your doctor and pharmacist informed (so that neither you, nor your doctor loses track), is to create a list or a personal medication record (PMR) that includes details about the drugs you take, their dosages and how you take them.

See the box at the bottom of this page for how to print or order a Personal Medication Record form from AARP.

3. Share Your Personal Medication Record

Collecting important pieces of your medical history for your own personal record is a great way to keep track of all the medications that you take, or have taken in the past. For more information on what a health history record is or how to put one together, check out our article on hor to create a personal medical history.

  • After completing the Personal Medication Record form with information about the medications you take, make copies of the record. Be sure to list the vitamins or supplements you use, and include information about any drug allergies, side effects, or sensitivities you have.
  • Give a copy of your Personal Medication Record to your doctor, your pharmacist, and a friend or family member. Carry one record with you and keep a copy at home.
  • Keep your Personal Medication Record updated. Make note of any new medications or those you have stopped taking. (You may want to write in pencil or keep a blank copy of the form so you can update your medication information with ease.)

Looking for more resources? AARP also has a new online health tool, AARP Health Record, which is free to AARP members. This new tool enables uses to enter, store and edit their personal health information in a central location and to share it selectively with caregivers, family members, dcotors and other healthcare providers.

4. Make Good Choices

Exploring your options can save you money and improve your health. It's as simple as 1, 2, 3:

Consider Generic Drugs
Generic drugs have the same medical effect as brand-name drugs, but usually cost less. Ask your doctor about generics.

Compare Different Drugs
There is evidence-based research that helps you compare drugs developed to treat a particular condition; this research also explains what the drugs do and how much they cost.

RegenceRx offers a consumer guide that summarizes and compares evidence about some drugs for many common conditions.

In addition, the AARP Drug Savings Tool, featuring data from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, can help you find information about the cost and effectiveness of the medications you take.

Find Discounts
Just like shopping for clothes or food, you can research and shop for medication discounts.

  • Consider using a prescription discount card.
  • Fill your prescription online or through mail order.
  • Enroll in the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage program.
  • Check with your state or local government for pharmacy assistance programs.

5. Manage Your Medicines

It's important to take your medications carefully and correctly. You put your health at risk if you do not follow your medication instructions, fill your prescriptions, or take the required doses. Notify your doctor immediately if:

  • you have any problems or concerns with your medicines
  • you can't stick to your medication plan because of cost, side effects, or other reasons

Remember, tell your doctor the truth about what you are and aren't taking. Together you can make medication adjustments that are best for your health and safety.

You may also like: AARP Health Tools. >>