National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health  |  2 Comments  | 

Questions to Ask your Doctor About Medications

If the doctor prescribes a drug(s) for your parent's condition, there are some questions you should ask. First, make sure you know the name of the drug and understand why it has been prescribed for your parent. Ask the doctor to write down how often and for how long your parent should take it.

Make notes about any other special instructions. There may be foods or drinks to avoid while your parent is taking the medicine. Or you may have to take the medicine with food or a whole glass of water. If your parent is taking other medications, make sure your doctor knows, so he or she can prevent harmful drug interactions.

Sometimes medicines affect older people differently than younger people. Let the doctor know if the medicine doesn't seem to be working or if it is causing problems. It is best that your parent not to stop taking the medicine on his or her own. If they want to stop taking the medicine, check with your doctor first.

Questions to ask about medications:

  • What are the common side effects? What should I pay attention to?
  • When will the medicine begin to work?
  • What should I do if my parent misses a dose?
  • Should he/she take it at meals or between meals?
  • Does Mom/Dad need to drink a whole glass of water with it?
  • Are there foods, drugs, or activities Mom/Dad should avoid while taking this medicine?
  • Will he/she need a refill? How do I arrange that?
  • Can Mom/Dad become addicted to this drug?

Remember What the Doctor Said About the Prescription

No matter what your age, it's easy to forget a lot of what your doctor says. Even if you are comfortable talking with your doctor, you may not always understand what he or she says. So, as your doctor gives you information, it's a good idea to check that you are following along. Ask about anything that does not seem clear. For instance, you might say: "I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain that a little more?" or "I did not understand that word. What does it mean?"

Another way to check is to repeat what you think the doctor means in your own words and ask, "Is this correct?" Here are some other ideas to help make sure you have all the information you need.

Take notes. Take along a notepad and pencil and write down the main points, or ask the doctor to write them down for you. If you can't write while the doctor is talking to you, make notes in the waiting room after the visit. Or, bring a tape recorder along, and (with the doctor's permission) record what is said. Recording is especially helpful if you want to share the details of the visit with others.

Get written or recorded materials. Ask if your doctor has any brochures, DVDs, CDs, cassettes, or videotapes about your health conditions or treatments. For example, if your doctor says that your parent's blood pressure is high, he or she may give you brochures explaining what causes high blood pressure and what you can do about it. Ask the doctor to recommend other sources, such as websites, public libraries, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies that may have written or recorded information you can use.

Talk to other members of the health care team. Sometimes the doctor may want you to talk with other health professionals who can help you understand and carry out the decisions about how to manage your condition. Nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and occupational or physical therapists may be able to take more time with you than the doctor.

Call or email the doctor. If you are uncertain about the doctor's instructions after you get home, call the office. A nurse or other staff member can check with the doctor and call you back. You could ask whether the doctor, or other health professional you have talked to, has an email address you can use to send questions.

Understand Each Prescription and What It Does

When the doctor writes a prescription, it is important that you are able to read and understand the directions for taking the medication. Doctors and pharmacists often use abbreviations or terms that may not be familiar. Here is an explanation of some of the most common abbreviations you will see on the labels of your prescription medications:

  • p.r.n. as needed
  • a.c. before meals
  • q.d. every day
  • p.c. after meals
  • b.i.d. twice a day
  • h.s. at bedtime
  • t.i.d. three times a day
  • p.o. by mouth
  • q.i.d. four times a day
  • ea. each

If you have questions about a prescription or how your parent should take the medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist. If you do not understand the directions, make sure you ask someone to explain them. It is important to take the medicine as directed by your doctor.


The National Institute on Aging (NIA), one of the 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institute of Health (NIH) leads a broad scientific effort to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life. In 1974, Congress granted authority to form NIA to provide leadership in aging research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs relevant to aging and older people.

 
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