NIH Senior Health Information for Residents, Patients and Families


CARE first professionals believe in the importance of health literacy and patient and resident education. Our customers’ administration and nursing staffs recommended that we develop a digest of important information to share with patients, residents and their families.

The National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine developed and shares Senior Health: Built With You in Mind, on its website http://nihseniorhealth.gov to help older Americans maintain healthy lives. For your convenience, we have obtained permission to share selected topics dealing with safe use of medications here on the CARE first website. Our thanks to the NIH NLM. Our hope is that this information will be helpful to residential care facility administrators and staff in helping to educate patients, residents and family members about taking medicines.

Drugs in the Body

Medicines can enter the body in many different ways, including through an inhaler, a skin patch, a pill or a hypodermic needle. As drugs make their way through the body, many steps happen along the way. Understanding how medicines work in your body can help you learn why it is important to use medicines safely and effectively. In this section on taking medicines, we’ll focus on medicines you take by mouth, since those are the most common.

Entering and Circulating in the Body

When you take medicines by mouth, they move through the digestive tract and are taken up by internal organs like the stomach and small intestine. Often, they are then sent to the liver, where they might be chemically altered. Finally, they are released into the bloodstream.

As the bloodstream carries medicines throughout the body, the drugs can interact with many tissues and organs. Side effects can occur if a drug has unintended effects anywhere in the body.

Drug Metabolism

Just as it does with food, the body tries to chemically break down medicines as soon as they enter the body. Most drugs taken by mouth enter the stomach or small intestine and then are sent to the liver. The liver contains protein molecules called enzymes that chemically modify drugs and other non-food substances. The chemical alteration of a medicine by the body is called drug metabolism.

Often, when a drug is metabolized by the body, it is converted into products called metabolites. These metabolites are not usually as strong as the original drug, but sometimes they can have effects that are stronger than the original drug. For example, codeine in the prescription pain killer Tylenol#3 becomes fully active only after the medicine is metabolized in the liver.

Because most drugs and other “foreign” substances are broken down in the liver, scientists refer to the liver as a “detoxifying” organ. As such, the liver can be prone to damage caused by too much medicine in the body.

Drug metabolites often return to the liver and are chemically altered once again before they exit the body.

Exiting the Body

After a drug’s metabolites have circulated in the bloodstream, where they work as medicine, the body eliminates them the same way it eliminates other wastes—in the urine or feces. Age-related changes in kidney function can have significant effects on how fast a drug is eliminated from the body.

Source: National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, http://nihseniorhealth.gov

 

Side Effects

Older Bodies Handle Drugs Differently

While everyone needs to be careful when taking a medicine, older adults frequently take more than one medication at a time. Medicines can interact with each other in unexpected ways, so anyone taking several medications at the same time should be extra careful. Also, as the body ages, its ability to absorb foods and drugs changes.

As people age, the body’s ability to break down substances can decrease. Because older people may not be able to metabolize drugs as well as they once did, they might need smaller doses of medicine per pound of body weight than young or middle-aged adults do.

Risks and Benefits

All medicines have risks as well as benefits. The benefits of medicines are that they can improve your health and well-being by doing what they were designed for, like treating a disease, curing infection, or relieving pain. The risks are the chances that something unwanted or unexpected will happen when you use medicines. Unwanted or unexpected symptoms or feelings that occur when you take medicine are called side effects.

Side effects can be relatively minor, such as a headache or a dry mouth. They can also be life-threatening, such as severe bleeding or irreversible damage to the liver or kidneys.

Tips to Avoid Side Effects

Stomach upset, including diarrhea or constipation, is a side effect common to many medications. Often, this side effect can be lessened by taking the drug with meals. Always check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to see if you should take a particular medication with food.

Here are some more tips to help avoid side effects.

  • Always inform your doctor or pharmacist about all medicines you are already taking, including herbal products and over-the-counter medications.
  • Tell your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about past problems you have had with medicines, such as rashes, indigestion, dizziness, or loss of appetite.
  • Ask whether the drug may interact with any foods or other over-the-counter drugs or supplements you are taking.
  • Read the prescription label on the container or the drug information sheet that comes with your medication carefully and follow its directions. Make sure you understand how often, when and how much medicine to take each day.
  • If you experience side effects, write them down so you can report them to your doctor accurately.
  • Call your doctor right away if you have any problems with your medicines or if you are worried that the medicine might be doing more harm than good. He or she may be able to change your medicine to another one that will work just as well.
  • Don’t mix alcohol and medicine unless your doctor or pharmacist says it’s okay. Some medicines may not work well or may make you sick if taken with alcohol.

Drug Interactions

You should always be sure to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist about any and all medications that you take every day or even once in a while. Be sure to include products like pain relievers, antacids, alcohol, herbal remedies, food supplements, vitamins and other substances you might not think are medicines.

Unwanted effects can occur when any substance interacts, or interferes with, another one. These chemical interactions change the way your body handles one or both substances.

In some cases, the overall effect of an interaction is greater than desired. Combining aspirin with blood-thinning drugs such as Coumadin®, also called warfarin, can cause serious bleeding. Mixing Viagra®, also called sildenafil, and the heart drug nitroglycerin can cause blood pressure to plunge to dangerously low levels.

Even if a product is not called a drug, your body handles it the same way it handles drugs. Some herbal and other substances can interact in potentially dangerous ways with prescription drugs or other over-the-counter products.

Some foods and beverages are known to interact with certain drugs. For example, a single glass of grapefruit juice can raise the level of some medications in the blood. This can occur with several types of drugs commonly used to treat heart conditions. Years ago, scientists discovered this “grapefruit juice effect” by luck, after giving volunteers grapefruit juice to mask the taste of a medicine.

Nearly a decade later, researchers figured out that grapefruit juice blunts the effects of an enzyme that breaks down drugs. This leads to higher levels of medicine remaining in the blood, which can cause health problems. Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to consume foods or beverages that contain grapefruit with the medication you are taking. You may still be able to enjoy grapefruit or its juice if you consume it at a different time of day than when you take medicine. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you.

Some drugs or foods can also prevent other drugs from working properly. For example, calcium-rich dairy products or certain antacids can prevent antibiotics from being properly absorbed into the bloodstream. Ginkgo biloba can reduce the effectiveness of blood-thinning medications and raise the risk for serious complications such as stroke.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medicines

The medications a doctor prescribes for you are called prescription drugs. You can only pick them up at a pharmacy. Medicines you can get without a doctor’s prescription, which you can buy at a grocery or convenience store, are called over-the-counter drugs. It is important to remember that over-the-counter products include many different substances such as vitamins and minerals, herbal and dietary supplements, laxatives, cold medicines, and antacids. Any of these can interact with each other to cause unexpected or unwanted effects.

Learn about Active Ingredients

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines almost always contain several ingredients. Check the labels of your medicines before you start taking them to ensure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. Make sure your doctor and pharmacist have an up-to-date list of your allergies so they don’t give you a medicine that contains something you are allergic to.

Some of the ingredients in a medicine are not directly involved in its main job. These are called inactive ingredients. Examples of inactive ingredients include the substances that give a lozenge color or flavor or ingredients that ensure the drug within a capsule gets released at a controlled rate.

The active ingredients in medicines are the chemical compounds that work with your body to treat your condition or bring relief of your symptoms. Learn which active ingredients are in the prescription and over-the-counter medicines you are taking.

For example, over-the-counter pain relievers usually contain one or more of the active ingredients below:

    • acetaminophen
    • ibuprofen
    • naproxen sodium
    • aspirin

Some medicines are designed to treat more than one condition, so they have more than one active ingredient. Many cold and flu remedies are an example of this. They might contain a combination of ingredients to sooth a sore throat, calm a cough, stop up a runny nose and bring down a fever.

Don’t take more than one medicine that contains the same active ingredient(s). For example, if your cough syrup contains acetaminophen, don’t take a pain reliever that contains acetaminophen while you are using the cough syrup. Taking more than one medicine that has the same active ingredient could result in getting too much of that ingredient. Too much of any one ingredient might damage your liver or lead to other serious health problems.

Always read the labels on the over-the-counter products you are taking to find out whether the active ingredients have side effects. For example, antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Caffeine, which is present in some over-the-counter medicines, can interact with certain drugs or can cause problems with underlying conditions such as high blood pressures.

Source: National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, http://nihseniorhealth.gov

 

Taking Medicines Safely

Older Adults and Medications

Older people as a group tend to have more long-term, chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease than any other age group. Because they may have a number of health problems or issues at the same time, it is common for older people to take many different drugs. Here are some tips on how to take medicines safely and get the best results from them.

Understanding Your Medication

If your doctor prescribes a medication for your condition, try to find out as much about it as you can, including how to take it properly. Ask the following questions and write down the answers before leaving the doctor’s office.

    • What is the name of the condition this medicine will treat?
    • What is the name of the medicine?
    • How does it treat my condition?
    • What is the name of its active ingredient?
    • Did you check that it doesn’t contain anything I’m allergic to?
    • How long will it take to work? How should I store the medication? Does it need to be refrigerated?
    • Can the pharmacist substitute a less expensive, generic form of the medicine?

Find Out How to Take the Medication

Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse about the right way to take any medicine before you start to use it. Ask questions when you don’t know the meaning of a word, or when instructions aren’t clear. Here are some specific questions to ask.

    • Should I take it as needed or on a schedule?
    • Should I take it at a certain time of day?
    • How much should I take each time?
    • Do I need to take it with food?
    • May I drink alcohol while on this medication?
    • How long will I have to take it?
    • Ask What to Expect
    • How will I feel once I start taking this medicine?
    • How will I know if this medicine is working?
    • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
    • What side effects might I expect? Should I report them?
    • Can this medicine interact with other prescription and over-the-counter medicines — including herbal and dietary supplements — that I am taking now?

Tips for Taking Medicines Properly

Taking different medicines is not always easy to do properly. It may be hard to remember what each medicine is for, and how and when you should take each one. Here are some helpful hints about taking medicines.

    • Check the label on your medicine before taking it to make sure that it is for the correct person — you.
    • Read and save any written information that comes with the medicine.
    • Take the medicine according to the schedule on the label.
    • Don’t take more or less than the prescribed amount of any medicine.
    • If swallowing tablets is difficult, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether there is a liquid form of the medicine or whether you could crush your tablets. However, do NOT break, crush, or chew tablets without asking a health professional first.
    • Get into the habit of checking the expiration dates on your medicine bottles, and throw away medicine that has expired.
    • Try to set and follow a routine for taking your medicines.

Source: National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, http://nihseniorhealth.gov

Managing Your Medicines

Take Charge of Your Medicines

Keeping track of your medicines is very important. Making sure that they are stored properly, that they have not expired when you take them, and that prescriptions are refilled requires time and attention.

Also, taking many different medications at the same time is difficult. It can be hard to remember what each drug is for, when you should take it, and how you should take it. This is especially true for people with memory problems. However, there are simple strategies you can use to help you manage your medicines wisely.

Simple Strategies

    • Keep a checklist of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take. For each medicine, mark the amount you take, the time of day you take it, and whether it should be taken with food. Store two copies of the list: one on the refrigerator door or where your medications are stored, and one in your wallet or purse. You may wish to print out the enlarged version of the chart on this page to help you.
    • Review your medicine record at every visit to the doctor and whenever your doctor prescribes new medicine. Your doctor may have new information about your medicines that might be important to you. Whenever possible, have your health care provider write down advice and instructions for taking each medication. Keep this information handy.
    • Ask your pharmacist to provide your medicine in large, easy-to open containers with large-print labels. Keep medicines in their original containers, and never put more than one kind of medicine in the same container. Consider using multi-day dispensers that organize your medicines by the day and time that you should take them.
    • To determine how a medication should be stored, ask your doctor or pharmacist and/or read the label. Some medications must be stored in the refrigerator. Your bathroom medicine cabinet is not a good place to store most medications due to the moist, warm conditions that can cause drugs to break down more quickly.
    • Don’t stop taking a prescription drug unless your doctor says it’s okay — even if you are feeling better.
    • Get prescriptions refilled early enough so you won’t run out of medicines. Running out could cause problems with your medicine schedule. Check expiration dates frequently and discard any medicines that are out-of-date.
    • Keep all medicines out of the sight and reach of children and away from pets. If children do visit your house, be extra cautious and have the phone number of the nearest poison control center handy.

Your Pharmacist Is a Resource

Finally, the pharmacist is a good source of information about your medicines. In addition to answering questions and helping you select non-prescription medications, your pharmacist keeps records of all the prescriptions you get filled at that store.

Because the pharmacist keeps these records, it is a very good idea to have the same pharmacy fill your prescriptions whenever possible.

Source: National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, http://nihseniorhealth.gov

 

Personalized Medicines

Medicines: One Size Does Not Fit All

Studies have shown that bad reactions to properly prescribed medicines cause a number of hospitalizations each year. Researchers believe that many of these errors show that when it comes to taking medicines, “one size does not fit all.”

For example, allergy medicines simply don’t work for everyone who takes them. For some people, taking the standard dosage of a prescription pain reliever such as codeine offers no pain relief, and can even cause side effects that are uncomfortable or life-threatening.

As the body ages, fat and muscle content change, affecting how the body absorbs and processes drugs. Many other factors — exercise habits, diet, and general state of health — also influence how a person responds to medications.

Genes and Proteins Can Affect Your Response to Medicines

Another key factor is heredity — the genes we inherit from our parents and other ancestors. Genes can influence the way people respond to many types of medicines, such as Tylenol#3®, which is acetaminophen plus codeine; antidepressants like Prozac®, also called fluoxetine; and many blood pressure and asthma medicines.

As drugs travel through the body, they interact with many different molecules called proteins, which are present in all living things and come in many different sizes and shapes. Proteins called enzymes chemically alter most drugs, activating or inactivating them.

Your genes determine the shape and function of your proteins. As drugs travel through the body, they interact with dozens of proteins.

Everyone’s genes are slightly different, so everyone’s proteins are different. Variations in some proteins can affect the way we respond to medicines. Such proteins include those that help the body absorb, metabolize, or eliminate drugs.

What Is Pharmacogenomics?

Many scientists around the country are conducting research to understand how genes affect the way people respond to medicines. This type of research is called pharmacogenomics.

As pharmacogenomics research progresses, it will become increasingly important to identify all the possible variations in genes that play a role in drug response. To identify which versions of these genes a person has, researchers examine DNA from that person. An easy, painless, and risk-free way to obtain DNA is from mouth cells that stick to a cotton swab rubbed on the inside of a volunteer’s cheek.

Uncovering differences in people’s genetic backgrounds will help doctors prescribe the right medicine in the right amount for each person, making medicines more safe and effective for everyone.

Scientists will also better understand the role that genes play in causing or contributing to diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and many others. Research in pharmacogenomics will help scientists make future medicines as safe and effective as possible.

Source: National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, http://nihseniorhealth.gov

 

Frequently Asked Questions – NIH Senior Health on Taking Medicines

  1. What is the difference between prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs?
  2. After you swallow a pill or capsule, what happens to the drug inside the body?
  3. How does the body get rid of medicines?
  4. What is an active ingredient?
  5. What should I know about the active ingredients in the medications and other products I take?
  6. Does aging affect how the body processes medicines?
  7. Do medicines work the same in all people?
  8. How do genes affect how people respond to drugs?
  9. How can I remember all the details about a new medicine the doctor prescribes for me?
  10. How can I remember when to take all the different medications that my doctor has prescribed for me?
  11. Should I inform my doctor and/or pharmacist about all the different medications I am taking?
  12. If I have questions about my medicine after I leave the doctor’s office, what should I do?
  13. What are some tips for taking medicines properly?
  14. Why do some medications need to be taken with meals?
  15. Should all medicines be taken with food?
  16. What are drug interactions?
  17. What are side effects?
  18. What are some ways to avoid side effects?
  19. What is the “grapefruit juice effect?”
  20. If I feel better, can I stop taking the medication my doctor has prescribed for me?
  21. What’s the best place to store my medications?
  22. How can doctors be sure new drugs work as they should?
  23. What are clinical trials and who conducts them?
  24. Are there risks involved in participating in clinical trials?
  25. Are researchers working on developing new medicines for diseases of aging?
  26. What is pharmacogenomics research?

1. What is the difference between prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs?

There are two types of medications: drugs your doctor prescribes for you, called prescription drugs, and those you can get without a doctor’s prescription, called over-the-counter drugs. It is important to realize that over-the-counter products include many different substances such as vitamins and minerals, herbal and dietary supplements, laxatives, cold medicines, and antacids.

2. After you swallow a pill or capsule, what happens to the drug inside the body?

When you swallow a pill or a capsule, in most cases, it moves through the digestive tract to the liver, where the body processes chemicals. The drug then enters the bloodstream, where it can interact with proteins and other molecules in many body organs.

3. How does the body get rid of medicines?

Drugs taken by mouth are broken down in the liver and other organs, then pass out of the body in urine or feces.

4. What is an active ingredient?

An active ingredient is the chemical substance in a medicine that works with your body to treat your condition. Many drugs contain one or more different active ingredients.

5. What should I know about the active ingredients in the medications and other products I take?

It’s important to learn what active ingredients are in the medicines and over-the-counter products you are taking in order to avoid allergic reactions, side effects or unwanted interactions between ingredients.

Some medicines are designed to treat more than one condition, so they have more than one active ingredient. Many cold and flu remedies are an example of this. They might contain a combination of ingredients to sooth a sore throat, calm a cough, stop up a runny nose and bring down a fever.

Don’t take more than one medicine that contains the same active ingredient(s). For example, if your cough syrup contains acetaminophen, don’t take a pain reliever that contains acetaminophen while you are using the cough syrup. Taking more than one medicine that has the same active ingredient could result in getting too much of that ingredient. Too much of any one ingredient might damage your liver or lead to other serious health problems.

Always read the labels on the over-the-counter medications to find out whether the active ingredients have side effects. For example, antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Caffeine, which is present in some over-the-counter medicines, can interact with certain drugs or can cause problems with underlying conditions such as high blood pressure.

6. Does aging affect how the body processes medicines?

Yes. As the body ages, its ability to absorb and process foods and drugs changes. Older people often process drugs less quickly or thoroughly than they once did. So they might need smaller doses of medicine per pound of body weight than they did when they were younger.

7. Do medicines work the same in all people?

No. Many factors, including exercise habits, diet, and general state of health can influence how a person responds to medications. Another key factor is heredity. Genes can influence the way people respond to many types of medicines.

8. How do genes affect how people respond to drugs?

Genes determine the shape and function of all the body’s proteins, and as drugs travel through the body they interact with proteins. Everyone’s genes are slightly different, so everyone’s proteins are different. Variations in some proteins can affect the way we respond—or don’t respond—to a medicine.

9. How can I remember all the details about a new medicine the doctor prescribes for me?

When discussing medications with your doctor, it is a good idea to write down your questions ahead of time and to jot down the doctor’s answers to those questions. Taking a friend or relative with you to your doctor’s appointment also may help you understand what the doctor said and remember what to do after you get home.

10. How can I remember when to take all the different medications that my doctor has prescribed for me?

Keep a checklist of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take. For each medicine, mark the amount you take, the time of day you take it, and whether it should be taken with food. Store two copies of the list: one on the refrigerator door or where your medications are stored, and one in your wallet or purse.

11. Should I inform my doctor and/or pharmacist about all the different medications I am taking?

Yes. You should always be sure to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist about any and all medications that you take every day or even once in a while. Unwanted effects can occur when a drug interacts, or interferes with, another drug or with certain foods. These chemical interactions change the way your body handles one or both medicines.

Also, tell your doctor and pharmacist about any allergies you have so they don’t give you a medicine that contains something you are allergic to.

12, If I have questions about my medicine after I leave the doctor’s office, what should I do?

Call your doctor’s office and see if the doctor or a nurse can answer your questions. Your pharmacist is another good source of information about taking medicines.

13. What are some tips for taking medicines properly?

Taking different medicines is not always easy to do properly. It may be hard to remember what each medicine is for, and how and when you should take each one. Here are some helpful hints about taking medicines.

  • Check the label on your medicine before taking it to make sure that it is for the correct person — you.
  • Read and save any written information that comes with the medicine.
  • Take the medicine according to the schedule on the label.
  • Don’t take more or less than the prescribed amount of any medicine.
  • If swallowing tablets is difficult, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether there is a liquid form of the medicine or whether you could crush your tablets. However, do NOT break, crush, or chew tablets without asking a health professional first.
  • Get into the habit of checking the expiration dates on your medicine bottles, and throw away medicine that has expired.
  • Try to set and follow a routine for taking your medicines.

14. Why do some medications need to be taken with meals?

Taking some medicines with food can help the body absorb the drug. On the other hand, certain foods can slow down absorption. Foods can also sometimes prevent stomach upset, a common side effect of some medicines. Taking medicine with a full glass of water can reduce the chance of getting an upset stomach because the water helps the medicine dissolve faster. The drug’s label should tell you whether to take the drug with or without food and whether it is important to drink an entire glass of water along with the medicine.

15. Should all medicines be taken with food?

No. It is very important that you read the labels on all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Food can interact with some medicines, affecting their action in the body. These types of medicines should be taken with a full glass of water — not milk or juice — to help prevent them from becoming lodged in your throat or esophagus.

16. What are drug interactions?

Drug interactions occur when a medicine interacts chemically with another drug or with certain foods. These interactions change the way your body handles one or both medicines, which can change the safety or effectiveness of either or both drugs.

17. What are side effects?

Side effects are unwanted or unexpected symptoms or feelings that occur when you take medicine. Side effects can be relatively minor, such as a headache or a dry mouth. They can also be life-threatening, such as severe bleeding or irreversible damage to the liver or kidneys.

Stomach upset, including diarrhea or constipation, is a side effect common to many medications. Often, this side effect can be lessened by taking certain drugs with meals. However, check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist first because food can decrease the absorption of certain medications.

18. What are some ways to avoid side effects?

  • Always inform your doctor or pharmacist about all medicines you are already taking, including herbal products and over-the-counter medications.
  • Tell your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about past problems you have had with medicines, such as rashes, indigestion, dizziness, or loss of appetite.
  • Ask whether the drug might interact with any foods or other over-the-counter drugs or supplements you are taking.
  • Read the prescription label on the container carefully and follow its directions. Make sure you understand when to take the medicine and how much to take each time.
  • If you experience side effects, write them down so you can report them to your doctor accurately.
  • Call your doctor right away if you have any problems with your medicines or if you are worried that the medicine might be doing more harm than good. He or she may be able to change your medicine to another one that will work just as well.
  • Don’t mix alcohol and medicine unless your doctor or pharmacist says it’s okay. Some medicines may not work well or may make you sick if taken with alcohol.

19. What is the “grapefruit juice effect?”

Taking certain medications with a glass of grapefruit juice can lead to higher levels of medicine in the blood, which can cause health problems. That’s because a substance in grapefruit blunts the effects of an enzyme that processes many types of drugs, including many of those used to treat insomnia, depression, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart conditions.

Ask your doctor and/or pharmacist whether you need to avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice while taking any of your medicines. The prescription label on your medicines should also include information about whether to avoid grapefruit.

20. If I feel better, can I stop taking the medication my doctor has prescribed for me?

No. Don’t stop taking a prescription drug unless your doctor says it’s okay — even if you are feeling better. Also, never share prescription drugs with another person.

21. What’s the best place to store my medications?

Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist and/or read a medication’s label to determine how it should be stored. For example, some medications must be stored in the refrigerator.

The bathroom medicine cabinet is not a good place to store most medications due to the moist, warm conditions that can cause drugs to break down more quickly. Keep medicines in their original containers, and never put more than one kind of medicine in the same container.

22. How can doctors be sure new drugs work as they should?

The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, is the federal agency responsible for making sure that foods and cosmetics are safe, and that drugs and medical devices are safe and effective. The FDA requires that new drugs be tested in clinical trials before they are put on the market.

23. What are clinical trials and who conducts them?

A clinical trial is a research study with people to find out if a new drug or treatment is both safe and effective. Clinical trials may be sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health, foundations, individuals, or voluntary groups. Trials can take place in a variety of locations, such as hospitals, universities, doctors’ offices, or community clinics.

24. Are there risks involved in participating in clinical trials?

Enrolling in a clinical trial offers benefits and risks. Patients who participate in a clinical trial may get therapies not yet available to most patients. As with any medical treatment, clinical trials pose risks. However, scientists who wish to test drugs in people must follow strict rules that are designed to protect patient volunteers.

Special groups called Institutional Review Boards, or IRBs, evaluate all proposed research that involves human subjects to make sure the expected benefits outweigh the potential risks.

25. Are researchers working on developing new medicines for diseases of aging?

Yes. Currently, hundreds of new medicines are in development for diseases of aging. Among these are potential new drugs for heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

26. What is pharmacogenomics research?

Many scientists around the country are conducting research to understand how genes affect the way people respond to medicines. This type of research is called pharmacogenomics.

Source: National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, http://nihseniorhealth.gov