Are you at risk of harm from your medications? If you – or people you love – are over the age of 65, there is an increased risk of complications from taking prescription, over-the-counter, or naturopathic drugs.
In 2016, one out of 143 Canadian seniors were hospitalized due to harmful medication interactions. Two out of three Canadian seniors take at least five different prescribed medications; one out of four takes at least ten! More than one in three Canadian seniors use at least one potentially inappropriate medication, which can lead to health risks, including falls, fractures, hospitalizations and death.
Johanna Trimble with MP Mark Strahl (Chilliwack-Hope), Allison Kooijman (Co-chair of Patients for Patient Safety Canada) and Ioana Popescu (Canadian Patient Safety Institute)
Healthy, strong and independent, 87-year-old Fervid Trimble became ill with an apparent flu. She was transferred to a healthcare centre to recuperate, but her family witnessed rapid cognitive decline including delusions, hallucinations and inability to recognize family members. Newly prescribed pain medications and an anti-depressant were to be followed by a medication to treat Alzheimer’s. It took months to convince the medical staff to review and sharply revise her medications.
Fervid recovered cognitively, giving her four more years to enjoy with her family. However, the adverse drug reaction left her bed-ridden for months. Her mobility compromised, she required a wheelchair and could not return to independent living in the apartment she loved.
Fervid was later subjected to repeated courses of antibiotics for suspected urinary tract infections that were likely adverse effects of the culprit drugs. She contracted C. difficile, an antibiotic-resistant diarrheal infection for which more powerful antibiotics were given, which compromised her health and led to her decline.
Her daughter-in-law, Johanna Trimble of Patients for Patient Safety Canada (PFPSC), has since joined several patient groups to advocate for elderly patients in the healthcare system.
“Each year, 50% of medications are taken incorrectly and an estimated 37% of seniors in nine provinces receive a prescription for a drug that should not be taken by this population,” says CEO Chris Power of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute. “Our focus for this year’s Canadian Patient Safety Week was to encourage patients and healthcare providers to have an open conversation about medication risks.”
The issue isn’t limited to prescription medications. In a recent PFPSC survey, 30% of respondents said that they had purchased the wrong natural health product, homeopathic, or over-the counter drug. In response to their concerns, PFPSC is calling for clearer information and larger size lettering on product labels.
“Consumers want to know what's in the products they’re taking,” says Maryann Murray, PFPSC. “Just like food products, all labels should be written in plain language, list all ingredients, and be printed in a legible size.”
During Canadian Patient Safety Week, PFPSC submitted a petition in the House of Commons to support consistent, plain-language labelling. Sponsored by MP Daniel Blaikie, the petition calls on the Minister of Health to ensure that the regulations for non-prescription drugs and natural health products address these important patient concerns.
Click here to sign this petition by January 31, 2019.
At the same time, 13 patients from across Canada travelled to Ottawa to meet with 31 Members of Parliament and Senators. They spoke about their personal experiences with patient harm and asked for their representatives’ support in making Canada’s healthcare system safer.
We thank the following representatives for their time and their commitment:
- MP Dean Allison (Con), Niagara West (ON)
- MP Mel Arnold (Con), North Okanagan-Shuswap (BC)
- MP Daniel Blaikie (NDP), Elmwood-Transcona (MB)
- MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes (Lib), Whitby (ON)
- MP Bill Casey (Lib), Cumberland-Colchester (NS), Chair: Standing Committee on Health
- MP Shaun Chen (Lib), Scarborough North (ON)
- MP Don Davies (NDP), Vancouver Kingsway (BC), Vice-Chair: Standing Committee on Health
- MP Kerry Diotte (Con), Edmonton Griesbach (AB)
- MP Terry Duguid (Lib), Winnipeg South (MB)
- MP Julie Dzerowicz (Lib), Davenport (ON)
- MP Hon. Diane Finley (Con), Haldimand-Norfolk (ON)
- MP Marilyn Gladu (Con), Sarnia-Lambton (ON), Vice-Chair: Standing Committee on Health
- MP Raj Grewal (Lib), Brampton East (ON)
- MP Kent Hehr (Lib), Calgary Centre (AB)
- MP Robert Kitchen (Con), Souris-Moose Mountain (SK)
- MP Hon. Kellie Leitch (Con), Simcoe-Grey (ON)
- MP Elizabeth May (Green), Saanich-Gulf Islands (BC)
- MP Ron McKinnon (Lib), Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam (BC)
- MP Marco Mendocino (Lib), Eglinton-Lawrence (ON)
- Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia, Newfoundland and Labrador
- Senator Jim Munson, Ontario
- MP Geoff Regan (Lib), Halifax West (NS)
- MP Raj Saini, (Lib), Kitchener Centre (ON)
- MP Sonia Sidhu (Lib), Brampton South (ON)
- MP Mark Strahl (Con), Chilliwack-Hope (BC)
- MP David Tilson (Con), Dufferin-Caledon (ON)
- MP Dave Van Kesteren (Con), Chatham-Kent-Leamington (ON)
- Senator Frances Lankin, Ontario
- Senator Elizabeth Marshall, Newfoundland and Labrador
- Senator Lucie Moncion, Ontario
- Senator Kim Pate, Ontario
Each of these representatives, and everyone who participated in Canadian Patient Safety Week, were advised on ways they could keep themselves and their loved ones safer. Review your medications with a doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are, or someone you love is:
- over the age of 65,
- taking 5 or more medications,
- recently discharged from hospital, or
- concerned about side effects.
5 Questions to Ask About Your Medications with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist; when going home from hospital; or when visited by home care services.
To reduce the risk of medication harm, consider these 5 tips:
1. KNOW Keep a list of all medications – prescription, over-the-counter, naturopathic, and recreational – and take it with you to all medical appointments to reduce the risk of harmful drug interactions.
2. CHECK with your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse to confirm all medications are being taken properly.
3. ASK to review ALL of your meds when your doctor starts, stops, or changes any of your meds.
4. REVIEW your medications with your pharmacist when filling or refilling a prescription, and when adding, removing or changing any non-prescription medication or supplement.
5. CONSULT your doctor or healthcare professional before STOPPING OR CHANGING any medication.
To learn more about medication safety, download these tools at
When should you have your medications reviewed?
What are 5 Questions to ask about your medications?
Fill out your medication list – for safety’s sake!