Poison prevention is not just for kids: Seniors are also at risk for poisoning

From choking hazards to dangerous chemicals, many people know how to poison proof a home for a baby. But what about poison proofing for grandma and grandpa? Seniors and older adults are also at risk for poisoning, in particular when it comes to medications.

National Poison Prevention Week is recognized each year during the third week of March by poison centres across North America. This year the Ontario Poison Centre (OPC) focused on raising awareness of the issue of poisoning in seniors and older adults.

Canadians are living longer than ever before, and as developments in prescription medications continue, more Canadians are living with chronic conditions. This means more seniors are taking multiple regular medications for longer and longer periods of time. The number of calls OPC has received from this age group has increased over the past 10 years; the call centre received over 8,000 calls from adults over the age of 60 in 2015.

“We worry particularly about seniors living in independent-living environments. They’re managing their own medications and over time it’s very likely they will make a mistake at some point. We want these seniors and older adults to know they can call us if they think they may have mixed up their medications, or if they just have a question,” says Heather Hudson, Advanced Practice Nursing Educator at OPC.

Dr. Joanne Ho, Geriatrician and Clinical Pharmacologist at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener-Waterloo and former fellow of OPC, researches adverse drug events in the older patient and is interested in the demand for expert toxicological service for this vulnerable population.

“As our population ages older adults with adverse drug events are more likely to require hospitalization and to experience cognitive and functional decline. Their burden of medical illness also increases the risk of death following a poisoning. Understanding the demand for the services OPC provides is necessary as we look to prudently allocate health care resources in the future,” says Ho.

Medications are by far the most common substance about which the Centre receives calls in this age group.

Unintentional poisonings in seniors and older adults can be prevented by taking some simple precautions. It’s important to keep in mind that while many of the recommended poison prevention strategies for children ring true for an older age group, many seniors have greater strength and capabilities. If an aging parent or grandparent starts to exhibit symptoms of memory loss or confusion there are other risk factors to consider. A confused senior may still be able to open a child resistant bottle if they have done so in the past.

For more information and poison prevention tips, visit www.ontariopoisoncentre.ca and follow @ON_Poison on Twitter.

Poison prevention tips for seniors and caregivers

  • Post the Ontario Poison Centre phone number (1-800-268-9017) in an accessible place or save it in the contact list of a mobile device.
  • Turn on lights and wear glasses, if required, each and every time a medication is administered to check for the right pill and the right dose.
  • Use a pill organizer to keep track of multiple medications. But remember, these organizers are not child resistant. If you have children in your environment, be sure to keep any medicines locked up tight and out of sight.
  • Ask questions about medications at medical appointments so there is a clear understanding of why the medication is prescribed, how it should be taken, and how often.
  • Keep a medication card up to date with information about all prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines and dietary or herbal supplements taken regularly. Carry this card at all times, and keep it with a driver’s license or health card. This information helps health-care providers make informed decisions about care in the event of an emergency.
  • Keep cleaning products in their original containers. Seniors with memory loss or suffering from confusion or dementia could cause serious harm to themselves by ingesting these products.
  • Be aware that depression can develop in older adults and seniors. Talk to friends and family members about mental health to help avoid intentional poisoning.