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Seniors and accidental poisonings

Michael Levine, MD, is a medical toxicologist at Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center. For more information, call the poison center at (800) 222-1222.

Question: My 74-year-old mother recently moved in with me and my family due to her declining health. She is on several medications. What are some things that I should take into consideration when caring for her?

Answer: Hospitalizations due to medication problems are very common for older adults. 

It is important to keep an up-to-date list of medications that your mother is taking. Included on this list should be all over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements. Go over this list with her doctor to make sure that there are no issues with the mixture of medications. Keep a copy of this list with you at all times, and have a copy available at your home in case of an emergency. When doctors prescribe new medications, provide this list to them to ensure that the new medications are compatible with those that she is already taking.

The second important step is for you to become familiar with all of your mothers medications. Know what each of them is for. If medications require multiple doses per day, ask her doctor or pharmacist to help determine when the medication should be taken. On your list, write down any special instructions like times of day, or if they should or should not be taken with food. Write down any side effects that you need to watch for, what to do and who to contact if your mother experiences any of those symptoms.

Your mother should only take medication that is prescribed to her. Do not allow her to take anyone else’s medicine, including medications that belong to other members of your family. If medicine is expired or she no longer needs it, bring it to a medication disposal location. You can locate the recycling location nearest to you by searching on, or you can drop the expired medications off at any Costco pharmacy.

Some general rules for your mother to follow when taking her medication are:

  • Turn on the lights when taking medication at night.

  • Put on glasses before taking any medication.

  • If she has grandchildren, she should keep the medication out of their reach. She should not take the medication in front of the children; they might copy her.

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