Older people may need to take more medication than they used to. It is important to understand what medications you are taking and why you need to take them. You have the right to ask as many questions as you need about the medicines you are taking to fully understand the benefits, risks, and side effects of them. You can ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to clarify any information for you.

Tips for taking medications


  • Take your medications as prescribed. This includes the dose and time it is taken, whether you can chew tablets, if you should limit alcohol, and whether to take the dose with food
  • Make sure all your doctors know about all your medications. This includes any specialists you may see
  • Tell your doctors about any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements that you take as these may affect what your doctor prescribes you
  • Try to use the same pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions. They can help you keep track of what you are taking and give you more information about medications
  • Keep medications out of reach of children and pets

Do not:

  • Change your doses or medication schedule without talking to your doctor
  • Use medication prescribed for someone else
  • Crush or break tablets unless your doctor tells you to
  • Use expired medication
  • Store in humid, hot, or cold locations, including the bathroom cabinet

Taking multiple medications

If you are taking multiple medications, make sure you can keep track of what you are taking and when you need to take them. You may want to use a medicine list or a yellow card to keep track of the medicines and doses you need to take.

To ensure you take your medications at the right time, you may want to consider using a pillbox, blister pack, or sachet to manage multiple medicines or multiple doses a day. You can also set an alarm or reminder on your phone if you often forget to take a dose.

If you have difficulty reading the labels on your medication, you may want to ask your pharmacist if they can print larger labels or write the information on a separate sheet. If you find it hard to swallow tablets, you can ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are other forms of medicine available such as liquids, patches, or crushable tablets.

You should get your medicine checked every year to make sure that you still need to be taking specific medications. Frequently checking what medications you are taking can ensure that you only take what you need. You should also be aware of taking medications to treat the side effects of other medications.

Choosing Wisely campaign

The Choosing Wisely Campaign, supported by Health Quality and Safety Commission and the Ministry of Health, advocate for the promotion of information about medication use. They believe that just because tests and treatments are available does not mean we should always use them. The campaign focuses on weighing the risks and benefits of procedures and treatments to make sure they are right for you.

Driving and medications

Some medications may affect your ability to drive. These can affect your concentration, increase anxiety, make you drowsy, dizzy, or affect your vision. Some combinations of medicines may also cause more side effects that impact your ability to drive. It is important to check which medications may affect your ability to drive and to check with yourself to see if you feel able to drive before beginning a journey. You must stop driving as soon as you feel impaired for the safety of yourself and other drivers. For more information on driving and medicines, check Health Navigator, Waka Kotahi (NZTA) or attend a theory-based Age Concern Staying Safe driving refresher course.

Disposing medicines

If you have unused or expired medications, it is important to dispose of them correctly to protect the environment and other people. Do not flush medications down the toilet or throw them in the rubbish. Instead, you can return unused or expired medicines to your pharmacist who can safely dispose of them.

Medicinal cannibis

It is now legal in New Zealand for doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis to manage chronic health conditions or unmanageable symptoms that do not improve with conventional medication. As a pharmaceutical product, medicinal cannabis must reach strict quality standards like any other medications available. Many companies and research facilities are heavily involved in improving the quality and safety of cannabis products, and all must be licensed in New Zealand by the Ministry of Health

Medicinal Cannabis in New Zealand differs from regular cannabis by containing little or no psychoactive substances. Prescriptions are limited to small supplies to avoid misuse. PHARMAC funding for medicinal cannabis is currently considered on a case-by-case basis and not available for everyone. This means that while you can receive a prescription for medicinal cannabis, you may have to privately fund the product yourself.

For more information on medicinal cannabis and prescriptions, you can check the Medicinal Cannabis Agency, Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ, or NZ Doctor

Websites of interest

  • For information on vaccinations and influenza, click here
  • You can find information on Medsafe about taking medicines safely
  • Health Navigator has a guide for taking medicines as an older person
  • For any information on specific medications, check Medsafe