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Don’t get caught in the OTC medication maze

February 17, 2015
by Sandra Hoban, Managing Editor
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I admit it. I’m getting older. When I go to the drugstore now, the vitamin/supplement aisles are more intriguing than the cosmetics counter. Lutein for your eyes. Chondroitin for your joints. Probiotics, vitamins, minerals… the list of health preparations is nearly endless. I enjoy relatively good health, except for manageable type 2 diabetes. But what about older adults who take multiple prescribed medications for multiple conditions? Sure, the “natural” hype sounds good, but be wary of these so-called natural health products and dietary supplements.

To illustrate: As I mentioned, I’m a type 2 diabetic, and this past October I caught a nasty cold, flu, whatever. Off I went to the drugstore for a bottle of decongestant syrup to calm my cough. I ended up at a “minute clinic” because I couldn’t breathe, and that harmless-looking fluid was the culprit. That experiment left me with a prescription for an inhaler.

The first caution to consumers is that, unlike the prescriptions drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), over-the-counter supplements and drugs are not reviewed by the agency for purity, effectiveness or for the veracity of their claims. If enough complaints are registered, however, the FDA can study and take action against unsafe products.

Secondly, don’t fall victim to the illogical assumption that if one capsule is good, then two or three might be better.

Most of the body’s vitamin and mineral needs are covered by good nutrition and healthful eating habits. If, however, a senior isn’t eating properly, a physician can recommend a vitamin or mineral supplement to meet nutritional needs.

Other age-related conditions, such as cancer, Parkinson’s, hearing loss and low vision can react badly to self-medication. An article in explored the issue of antioxidants and the elderly. It’s worth a read. It offers good advice for older individuals in your care or on staff.

MedlinePlus is an excellent resource to learn about many botanicals—their benefits and their contraindications.

Before starting any regimen have a discussion with a physician and do the research.


Sandra Hoban

Managing Editor

Sandra Hoban


Sandra Hoban has been on Long-Term Living’s editorial staff for 17 years. She is one of...