There are plenty of health risks facing today’s seniors, but not everyone is aware that accidental poisonings should also be on the list of things to be concerned about.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice encourages family members and caregivers of seniors to be aware of the possibilities for poisoning, which can come from environmental sources as well as other mistakes in judgment or memory.
Although about half of the 2.1 million reported poisonings nationwide in 2018 were children or teens, people in their 50s or older also had high levels of poisonings, according to the National Capital Poison Center. Seniors in their 70s and higher have a higher risk of poisoning than people in their 50s and 60s
Of all of these, 76.7 percent were accidental. And not all were fatal – poison centers around the country keep track of all reported calls, whatever the prognosis. But seniors may have a risk of a poisoning becoming fatal, especially because some live alone; don’t have anyone responding quickly, such as a parent of a poisoned child; or don’t expect to be poisoned or aware of what’s happening so they don’t take any steps to get help.
So education is definitely important, which can be done this month as part of National Poison Prevention Week. Since 1961, the National Poison Prevention Week Council has designated the third week of March as an opportunity to collectively spread the word and alert the public about the dangers of poison and how to reduce them. This focus can include health care providers, public health agencies, pharmacies, poison centers, and senior resource centers. Schools and businesses can also play a helpful role.
Agencies that compile poison statistics report that a high number come from medication errors, such as taking incorrect dosages, incorrect medication, adverse reactions to standard dosages or misuse of properly prescribed medications.
In some cases, simple memory problems may be the root: someone may take their prescription in the morning and not remember in the afternoon. While you may be fine taking double doses of some medications, the action can cause harm. If you’re unsure, many health experts recommend going without until the next scheduled dosage. Besides being dangerous, taking your medication twice can also reduce your supply faster, which could be a problem if you are only authorized to take a certain number each week or month.
If you’re having problems remembering, find ways to keep track of when you take each medication. It could be writing this info down in a notebook where you keep your pills; using a smartphone app to check off each time you take one or using a pill dispenser that indicates times and days of the week. If it’s empty that likely means you already took it. The only challenge with these is remembering to keep them stocked and refilled each week.
A caregiver also can be a part of the process for reminding or dispensing. He or she can have daily check-ins.
In some cases, medication poisonings can be caused by reading the label or the required dosage wrong on a pill bottle. This can be reduced by writing your own information on the lid or label so it’s easier to read or keep different medications in different areas so it’s hard to mix them up.
Something as simple as getting your eyesight tested or glasses adjusted regularly could also make a significant difference in properly reading prescription info. A magnifying glass or lens near this area could also provide a better view.
Other poisoning threats
Some risks of poisoning can have environmental causes, such as poor lighting. Low light in the kitchen or pantry can make it difficult to see expiration dates on food or seeing the condition of them when you eat or prepare them. This increases the possibility of eating something spoiled which could make someone ill.
This can be solved by a walk-through of the food area to see if any improvements can be made such as changing burnt-out light bulbs or adding new light sources. Regularly cleaning out the refrigerator or pantry by the homeowner or caregiver can also reduce the risk of potential poisoning.
Some problems with poisoning may be related to age-related declining cognition or increased risk of dementia.
As we age, the ability to distinguish how something tastes or smells decreases. Our short-term memory also becomes weaker, so while we may remember details from the distant past, we may not recall the instructions that our doctor gave us last week about our new medication.
Some advanced stages of dementia make it even more difficult to distinguish between food and not-food. This is why caregivers are encouraged to look at someone’s living space to make sure there aren’t any hazardous items that can be accidentally confused with food or drink, such as laundry soap.