Taking Control Of Your Meds

Prescription drugs are a major element in the health care routines of many older Americans. But, all too often, confusion abounds on critical details like dosages and many people have only a vague idea of which medications are safe to mix.

Mistakes with medications can be deadly, so patients need somewhere to turn when their doctors are not available to answer questions. Among the resources available is a new book, The AARP Guide to Pills.

The book covers 1,200 prescription and nonprescription drugs and answers many of the most common questions about them. And its co-author, Dr. Bill Thomas, points to overmedication as one of the biggest dangers for patients.

"Americans just sort of automatically believe that more is better and most is best," he said

with The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler.. "But when it comes to prescription drugs, that's very often not the case. That can be a very dangerous misconception."

Another huge concern with prescription drugs is the potential for side effects, which often take patients by surprise and can be serious enough to lead to hospitalization.

"Prescription drugs are powerful, and they work because they are powerful," said Thomas. "And while most patients are fairly familiar with what the drug is supposed to do, very few people are really aware of what the side effects are."

Since many seniors are on multiple drugs, they also need to pay close attention to how well different medications interact. That includes vitamins and herbal supplements as well as prescription pills, so Thomas recommends that patients supply their doctors with a complete list.

"A lot of people think if it's only in a little pharmacy bottle it matters," Thomas said. "Even dietary supplements and vitamins can interfere with medicines."

In addition to making that list, Thomas suggests that patients bring all their pills, ointments and supplements to the doctor so they can go through the whole pile together. Patients are often surprised at how many of their medicines are expired or unnecessary.