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Medication Safety Tips for Special Groups

Older Age Patients

As we age, we may be prescribed more medicines. We may also be at risk for more side effects because of changes in our body or the stage of our disease.1

Openly discuss changes to your treatment plan. Be sure to ask your doctor if a new medicine:

  • Acts the same way as any of the other medicines you are taking
  • Has similar side effects to other medicines you are taking (such as drowsiness or dizziness)
  • Might interact with anything you are already taking2

Remember you are your best advocate! Before you leave the doctor’s office, make sure to clarify if:

  • You have any unanswered questions
  • You missed some of the doctor’s answers, didn't understand them fully or need them repeated
  • You need additional support with anything that stands in the way of the treatment plan you and your doctor have agreed on3

These tips can help you take medicines purchased without a prescription properly:

  • Select a medicine that treats only the symptom that is bothering you. For instance, if you have a stuffy nose, select a product with only the ingredient to treat that problem
  • Only take medicines for their intended use. For example, don’t use a cold medicine to help you sleep
  • Medicines purchased without a prescription are usually meant to be taken for a short time.

If your symptoms continue or get worse, talk to your doctor.4

If you are a caregiver and help an older age patient with their care, ask to stay with him or her during any conversations with the doctor.3

Adults are recommended to receive vaccines for preventable diseases. Even if you had a vaccine a long time ago, as a child, it is sometimes advisable to revaccinate to boost your immunity. You can take your vaccination card to the doctor to discuss whether any boosters/revaccinations are suitable for you. Learn more about vaccinations and guidelines.


When it comes to medicine, children are not just “little adults.” They cannot simply be given the same medicines as adults, in smaller doses, without guidance from a doctor or pharmacist. If you take care of a child, know these special medicine safety considerations for both prescription and nonprescription medications.5

Here are some additional questions to ask your child's doctor:

  • Can the medicine affect my child’s performance at school?
  • Can the medicine have any long-term effects on my child?
  • Should I stop giving the medicine when my child gets better?

Learn more about child vaccinations for preventable diseases.6

If you take care of a child and manage their medicines, help to keep them safe in these ways:

  • Explain to children that medicines can be dangerous and that an adult needs to manage them
  • Children are not just “little adults.” Never give a child a medicine intended for an adult unless instructed by a doctor or pharmacist.5
    • For example, do not cut adult tablets in half or estimate a child’s dose of an adult-strength product
  • Read and follow the label. Use the measuring tool that comes with your child’s medicine. If a product doesn’t come with a special measuring tool, ask for one at the pharmacy. A household spoon may not hold the right amount of medicine7
    • Know the abbreviations for tablespoon (tbsp.) and teaspoon (tsp.). You should also know milligram (mg.), milliliter (ml and mL.), and ounce (oz.).
  • If you notice your child has any new symptoms, unexpected side effects, or the medicine does not seem to be working, talk to your doctor or pharmacist immediately.8,9
  • When your child takes any medicine, start a simple record (like a chart or checklist) of each dose given and when. Watch them take and swallow the entire dose.10
    • Don't rely on young children to tell you whether they have taken their medicine—they may say "yes" because they don’t like it, or even "no" to get a second dose if they liked the flavoring
  • If your child needs to have a medicine administered in school or daycare, learn how the procedure is handled there. Label the medicines clearly with your child's name and dose, so there is no mixing up with the medicines of other children.11

In cases of poisoning (i.e. taking too much medicine or when a child swallows anything you think might be dangerous), in the United States, call your local poison control center @ 800-222-1222 (the national poison control center number) or 911. Outside the United States, check your local listing for poison control centers.7

Avoid giving a child aspirin or other medicines that belong to a group called salicylates. These may raise the risk of a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome. For many children, fever and aches and pains may be treated instead with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but be sure to ask your child’s doctor what is most appropriate for him or her.12


1 Hugtenburg J, Ahmad A, Mast R, Dekker J, Nijpels G, Elders P. Identification of drug-related problems of elderly patients discharged from hospital. Patient Preference and Adherence. 2014:155. doi:10.2147/ppa.s48357
2 Hines LE, Murphy JE. Potentially harmful drug-drug interactions in the elderly: a review. Advances in pediatrics. Published December 2011.
3 How to Prepare for a Doctor's Appointment. National Institute on Aging.
4 Educating the Older Adult in Over-the-Counter Medication Use. Medscape Pharmacist .
5 Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Information for Consumers (Drugs) - Kids Aren't Just Small Adults -- Medicines, Children, and the Care Every Child Deserves. U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page.
6 Immunization Schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 6, 2018.
7 Giving Your Children Medicine. How to Use Eye Drops Properly.
8 Antibiotic Prescriptions for Children: 10 Common Questions Answered.
9 Medication Side Effects & Reactions.
10 Guide to Your Child's Medicines.
11 Administering Medication at School: Tips for Parents.
12 Reye Syndrome.