The Poison Control Center

The Elderly

The Elderly and Poison Prevention

"Hello, Poison Center? I think I may have taken my medicine twice this morning by accident. I can't remember. Can you help me?"

"Poison Center? My throat feels like it's burning! I reached for the toothpaste in the dark and it turned out to be my arthritis rub. The labels look almost the same."

"I placed my medicine and my husband's medicine on the kitchen counter. He thought it was meant for him and took both of our medications!"

"Hi, I'm calling from a payphone. We were driving to a picnic when my mother drank what she thought was apple juice. But it wasn't apple juice, it was antifreeze I had in the back of the car. Now she's drowsy and her speech is slurred. What should we do?"

Many people have the impression that poisonings happen only to children. In fact, the Poison Control Center receives over 1,000 calls a year regarding accidental poisonings in adults, many of whom are elderly.

The elderly are more sensitive to certain poisons than younger adults

This population is also prone to accidental exposures for unique reasons. The elderly population uses more medications than any other age group. Some elderly people have more than one health care provider who prescribes medication for them. Remembering to take two or more medications a day, with different schedules, side effects and restrictions may become confusing and frustrating.

The elderly may also undergo certain changes in their bodies that make them more susceptible to poisonings. Near vision tends to decline with age, making it more difficult to read small print labels. Night vision declines as well; therefore, trying to read labels in dim lighting may lead to errors. The sense of taste also changes, and the ability to distinguish subtle flavors diminishes. If something does not taste "quite right," it may now take several mouthfuls to detect. Lastly, while long-term memory improves, short-term memory becomes less reliable, making it easier to forget whether or not medication has been taken. Some illnesses, like Alzheimer's, make patients even more prone to memory loss and may also cause confusion.

Preventing Poisonings

  • Print
  • Share

Contact Us

Call our 24-hour toll-free emergency hotline