Aspirus Media Center

OTC Medication Safety for Older Adults


Megan Fleischman

Many older adults take three or more medications each day, according to the National Council on Patient Information (NCPIE). Although older adults make up only about 13 percent of the United States population, it’s estimated they account for 39 percent of all over-the-counter (OTC) medication use.


October is Talk About Your Medicines Month and this year’s theme is “Medication Safety & Aging.” This month, Aspirus Health aims to empower older patients to reduce medication risks, boost medication benefits and provide tips for staying safe when it comes to their OTC medications.


“Bodies change as they age and how medications interact with our bodies changes as well,” says Megan Fleischman, a clinical pharmacist who is completing her first year of pharmacy residency at Aspirus Wausau Hospital. “Understanding the OTC products in your medicine cabinet and how to use them properly over time is an important part of maintaining health.”


The National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration offer the following tips to help people stay safe:


1. Understand your medications. Learning medicine-related terms and reading your medicine labels are crucial first steps. Labels help you avoid side effects, prevent medication interactions and instruct you in how to properly take the medicine.


2. Communicate with your provider. Some OTC medicines can affect the way prescription medicines work or how they are used by the body. Many of these challenges can be prevented if you are informed about safe and appropriate medication use.


“OTC medications can cause side effects or bad reactions, especially if taking them incorrectly or combining with other medications,” says Fleischman. “Always talk with your provider or pharmacist about all medications you take.”


3. Use extra caution with pain medications. Older adults use pain relievers more often than any other age group. This group is also more prone to side effects from these medications, so it’s important to know some of the safety concerns. There are different types of OTC pain meds. Make sure you choose the pain reliever that is right for you. Check the medicine ingredients and follow the drug facts label. 


“Most OTC medications are only meant to be used for a short time, so be sure to talk to your provider or pharmacist if taking one becomes a regular habit,” adds Fleischman.



Aspirus Health has pharmacies located throughout the system. To find one near you, visit




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