Every day, Bel Air resident Ida Wilson, 78, has to take seven different medications for a heart ailment. Keeping the drugs, and the time intervals she must take them, straight can get confusing, she says.
On Monday, thanks to a campaign to educate seniors about the properuse of medications organized by two county agencies, Wilson got somepeace of mind about her daily ritual with the medications. To her relief, she found that she was taking her medications properly.
But not all seniors do.
Citing national studies, the county Office of the Aging estimates that 45 percent of the area's older residents take their medication improperly.
And, according to national figures, one in seven senior citizens admitted into a hospital are found to be either addicted to medications or misusing them, said J. Sue Henry, director of the Harford Drug and Alcohol Impact Program.
In between bingo games put on at five senior centers around the county to attract senior residents, Wilson and other county seniors were able to talk with volunteer pharmacists and student nurses about the medications they are taking and whether they are using them properly.
The educational campaign, dubbed "Healthiness is Playing Bingo," was the first of its kind in the state. It drew more than 300 of the county's 21,000 senior citizens.
Teaching Harford's senior residents how to take medications safely and effectively was the main goal ofthe campaign.
Another was to educate senior citizens about alcohol abuse -- a problem that is "hidden" but prevalent among the elderly, said James A. Macgill, director of the Harford Office of the Aging.
He said older people go through a series of traumatic experiences, including the deaths of their spouses and friends. And, when they turn to alcohol, he said, it is not always noticed since they often live alone and no longer work.
The county has never conducted a study of drug and alcohol abuse among senior residents, so local statistics are not available.
Mark Carroll, supervisor of the county Office of the Aging outreach programs, said, "Nobody seems to care about the elderly and mental health. Most of the studies are aimed at younger people. Children and families are definitely the aim."
Macgill said that based on his observations of county seniors, much of the improper use of drugs can be blamed on the high cost of medication.
He said many citizens simply can't always afford to pay for their prescriptions, so they borrow drugs from others or they use outdated medication.
"People start looking for short cuts," he said. "Do I pay the fuel bill, or do I buy medication?"
Wilson, the Bel Air woman attending the program offered at the Masonic Lodge in Bel Air, knows about the high cost of medications.
"You're looking at $157 right here," Wilson said, pointing to a bag filled with her bottles of medications. "You have to keep getting it refilled and it gets expensive."
Butch Henderson, pharmacist of Klein's-Super Thrift on Main Street, agreed that the high cost of medications is among the reasons some seniors inadvertently misuse them.
Henderson said seniors told him after they spend a lot of money on a medication they don't want tothrow any excess away. So they either keep it beyond its dated effectiveness or they give it to friends.
That can lead to trouble if the medication is not suited to the individual or if its dosage conflicts with other medications, he said.
Many seniors attending Monday's program in Bel Air complained about the high cost of prescriptions.
Officials from the Office of the Aging were on hand at the various locations where the program was conducted to provide information about existing financial aid programs for prescriptions. However, Macgill said many don't adequately meet the needs of senior residents, many of whom live on limited incomes.
For example, Carroll said, Medical Assistance, which is a state and federally funded program, pays an average of 50 cents on each prescription, and is only available toresidents earning a minimum of $384 a month, including pension and social security payments, he said.
The state Pharmacy Assistance program provides $1.50 per prescription, but only residents earning $587 a month or less are eligible.
Henderson, the pharmacist, advisesseniors experiencing side effects from medications to contact their doctors to see if another medicine may be available.
He also advises seniors who have prescriptions from more than one doctor to make sure the doctors are aware of the other medications they are taking.