Medicine cabinet essentials for an elderly person

The early days of the pandemic taught us the importance of having the essentials close at hand. When it seemed too dangerous to walk through the front door, we relied on our household supplies of toilet paper and everyday medicine, then when there was nothing to do but clean every corner and corner of our homes, many of us have realized that some of our medicines have long since expired.

While it’s easy to recognize that the crunchy cough syrup needs to go, it can be hard to tell when something like a prescription drug, inhaler, or bottle of aspirin has passed its peak. Ensuring your medicine can be taken safely and stored correctly is extremely important to your loved one. At best, they could end up with ineffective drugs, and at worst, they could cling to leftover drugs that could be dangerous.

Store the essentials

The last thing you want to do is run to the pharmacy when you or your loved one is injured or sick. Preparing for minor illnesses and injuries can be extremely helpful for things like seasonal allergies, colds, headaches, bites, rashes, minor cuts and burns, and more.

As you stock your cupboard, keep the following money-saving tip in mind: Generic and brand name drugs work the same way. According to the FDA, generic drugs are just as effective as their brand name counterparts, but can typically cost up to 85% less.

For fever, headache and pain

  • Aspirin (as in Bayer, most often used to relieve minor pain, fever, and inflammation)
  • Acetaminophen (as in Tylenol, used to relieve minor to moderate pain and fever, but does not reduce inflammation)
  • Ibuprofen (as in Motrin and Advil, used to relieve pain, fever, and inflammation)
  • Thermometer

For cold congestion

  • Decongestants
    • Pseudoephedrine (as in Sudafed, used to relieve nasal and sinus congestion)
    • Phenylephrine (as in DayQuil Severe Cold and Flu and Mucinex, used for the temporary relief of stuffy nose, sinus, and ear symptoms)

For allergy sufferers

  • Antihistamines (such as Zyrtec, Clarinex, and Allegra) block histamine, a symptom-causing chemical released by the immune system during an allergic reaction. This medication comes in tablets and liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops.

For digestive problems

  • Antacids (as in Tums or Maalox, used to treat heartburn, upset stomach, indigestion)
  • Bismuth subsalicylate (as in Pepto-Bismol, used to treat nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea)
  • Laxatives (as in Miralax, used to relieve constipation)

For insect bites, itchy skin and rashes

  • Antihistamine cream (as in Benadryl Anti-Itch Cream)
  • Calamine Lotion

For cuts and burns

  • Bandages and gauze pads
  • medical tape
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Antibiotic ointment (as in Neosporin)

*Keep in mind that even over-the-counter medications have side effects, so you should consult your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist before they take them, especially if they are also taking one or more prescription medications .

Shelf life of over-the-counter medications

Most of us keep a bottle of pills or anti-itch cream in a medicine cabinet for years without thinking about it. However, most over-the-counter medications have a shelf life of around four or five years.

“Ideally, over-the-counter medications should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct light,” said Norman Tomaka, media liaison for the American Pharmacists Association and clinical consultant pharmacist, at US News & World Report. “A well-lit bathroom where family members take steam showers does not pass the mark.”

Tomaka notes that the bathroom is probably the worst place to store prescription and over-the-counter medications and medicines, and medications are best stored at temperatures between 60 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit without exposure to sunlight, bare bulbs or neon lights.

Secure storage

As well as making sure your medications are stored in a dark, dry place, it’s also essential that medications are out of the reach of children. The CDC reports that about 50,000 young children end up in the emergency room each year because they took drugs when an adult wasn’t looking. The CDC recommends a few tips for safe storage of medications at home and on the go:

  • Store medicines away and out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Put away the medications every time.
  • Make sure the safety cap is locked.
  • Ask guests about medication safety.

Safe disposal of medications

Proper disposal of medications is important after changing your medicine cabinet of expired or unnecessary items. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration sponsors National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day in communities across the country, and many communities have their own programs as well. Check with your local law enforcement officials to find a location near you or check with the DEA to find a DEA-approved collector in your community. Some pharmacies also offer on-site medication drop boxes, mail-in return programs, and other ways to help you safely dispose of unused medications.

For people who cannot quickly access a drug take-back site, location, or program, the FDA provides a list of potentially dangerous drugs that should be immediately flushed down the toilet, as well as a list of drugs that should not be rinsed off but rather thrown in the trash.