Top 12 Must-Have Items for a Senior’s Medicine Cabinet


1.  Advanced Directives–Also known as a Living Will.  Includes your determination of your Healthcare Surrogate, or who you want to make medical decisions for you. 

If you have a “DNR” form that specifies that you do not want paramedics to resuscitate you in the event your heart stops beating or lungs stop breathing, this should be prominently placed near the entrance of your home or attached to your refrigerator.

2.  List of your medications, including specific doses.  Include medication allergies, including any allergy to latex.

According to a survey by AARP and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), two-thirds of people aged 50 and older use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Less than one-third of those who use CAM talk with their doctors about it. Remember that supplements are not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The term Medicine Cabinet is used in the title of this article to emphasize the fact that supplements should be treated like other medicines. Share with your doctor any supplements you may be taking to find out any side effects or interactions with other medicines you may be taking.

3.  First Aid Kit with topical antibiotic, alcohol pads, gauze pads, paper tape, Ace wrap and bandages.

4.   I call Vitamin D the Superstar Supplement–studies suggest it may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers.   Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium in the stomach.  Many more people are vitamin D deficient than previously known.  Vitamin D is important for healthy bones.  It helps the absorption of calcium in the stomach.

5.  Calcium is important to prevent osteoporosis or thinning of the bones.  Calcium supplements typically contain vitamin D as well. 

6.   Continuing this discussion about healthy bones, the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin were shown to improve the pain of moderate to severe arthritis, but was no better than placebo in mild arthritis in the GAIT study  funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

7.  Healthy joints may also benefit with omega-3 fatty acids, more commonly known as “fish oil.”  Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help patients with an inflammatory arthritis called rheumatoid arthritis. 

Omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have also been found to improve memory. 

Fish oil is best known for helping increase the good cholesterol in the body and lowering  bad cholesterol and triglycerides (fats).  The best way to get omega 3 fatty acids is to eat fatty fish such as  salmon, sardines, tuna or mackerel twice a week. 

A landmark study conducted in Italy showed that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation after a heart attack helped reduce the risk of recurrent heart attacks.    The American Heart Association recommends 500 mg of omega 3 fatty acids daily for healthy people and 1 gm of omega 3 fatty acids for people who have known coronary artery disease. Check with your doctor before taking omega 3 fatty acids because they may increase the risk of bleeding.

8.   Cholesterol levels can also be improved by eating fiber in the diet.  The best sources of fiber are whole grains such as barley, oat bran or quinoa.   Fiber also helps prevent diverticulosis (small pouches inside the large intestine).   The more fat in the diet, the more diverticula that form.  They can become inflamed and infected and may even require surgical removal of part of the colon.    Some patients with irritable bowel syndrome or constipation benefit with fiber supplements in their diet. It is very important to drink lots of water when taking fiber supplements–approximately 64 ounces a day. 

9.    Probiotics are supplements that also help maintain good colon health.  Probiotics are microorganisms which replenish the good bacteria that normally live in our colon or large intestine.  Probiotics are especially helpful when you have a stomach virus or have to take antibiotics.

10.  A study carried out by Harvard Medical School researchers showed that regular use of aspirin after developing colorectal cancer decreased the risk of death from colon cancer.  The most common use for aspirin, though, is to prevent heart attack and stroke.  The U. S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) encourages men aged 45-79 to consider taking low dose aspirin to prevent heart attack. Women ages 55-79 should consider aspirin therapy to prevent stroke.

Like other blood thinners, aspirin should not be used by patients who have had bleeding ulcers, patients over the age of 80 (except under a doctor’s supervision), patients with bleeding strokes or people at high risk for falls.  Always consult your doctor before starting aspirin.

11.  Lutein is an antioxidant supplement which has been shown to  help slow down or prevent vision loss in patients with age related macular degeneration.   The macula is the part of the back of the eye called the retina which is involved in central vision.  

Age related macular degeneration leads to loss of central vision, sparing the peripheral vision. The macula is the part of the retina that is also most sensitive to blue light the part of the visible light spectrum that, along with ultraviolet light, can damage your eyes.  Sunglasses also prevent  penetration of blue and ultraviolet light to the macula.

12.  Sunblock SPF at least 15 should be used daily to exposed skin.  Broad spectrum sunblock prevents ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays.  UVA rays cause premature aging of the skin.  UVB rays can cause sunburns.  

Exposure to both types of ultraviolet rays can lead to the development of skin cancer, including melanoma, a very serious type of skin cancer.   Look for agents that contain titanium and zinc oxide. Most people do not use as much sunblock as needed to protect the skin.   One ounce, enough to fill a shot glass, is  needed to protect each of the exposed parts of the body. 

Sunblock should be rubbed into the skin, especially on the face, ears, arms and hands, 15-30 minutes before sun exposure.  It must be re-applied frequently, every two hours, even the water-resistant kind.   

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends daily use of sunblock to exposed areas of the body, not just on days you are out in the sun.   On cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s rays are still present to cause sun damage. This article is for informational purposes only and should not substitute for medical advice from your healthcare provider.

The author is not providing personal medical opinion, diagnosis or course of treatment. Do not delay or substitute this information for medical treatment.

Last updated May 1, 2010 by Dr. Vee

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