Bill Realberg, 79, brought a sense of humor along with the plastic bag of pills he carried to a medical seminar yesterday in Randallstown.
Asked why he took a certain medication, he replied: "I don't know. It keeps me standing up straight."
When asked why he took vitamin pills, Mr. Realberg, who has circulation problems, grinned, rubbed his balding head and said: "Keeps me from getting pregnant."
Mr. Realberg's humor aside, there is a serious problem. Seniors make up less than 18 percent of the U.S. population, but take about 30 percent of the prescription drugs. Sometimes they have difficulty taking their medications in the right order or remembering to take them at all.
Yesterday's seminar, held at the Liberty Senior Center and sponsored by the Baltimore County Department of Aging, attracted more than 100 seniors. They were told to ask questions about and keep track of their medications.
In a similar event yesterday in Baltimore, the Maryland Department on Aging and the CFS Health Group, a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, announced a program to educate employees, seniors and those who care for the elderly about the proper use of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
The medication reviews will be held throughout October at corporate sites, senior centers, and the health centers of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland's health maintenance organizations, including Potomac Health, FreeState Health Plan and CareFirst.
David D. Wolf, president of CFS Health Group Inc., said that hospitals spend an estimated $8.5 million annually for patients who don't take their medications as prescribed.
"It is important that we turn these statistics around," he said. "Education may be the best prescription of all."
Elaine Meyers, 68, knows all about prescriptions. She said she takes 10 different medications each day: nine pills in the morning and five at night. Her list of problems includes cerebral hemorrhage, diabetes, Bell's palsy, an arterial bypass.
"I had trouble putting on my lipstick when I had the palsy. But don't feel sorry for me, I feel great," she said, breaking into a quick soft shoe at the Randallstown meeting. "I even take tap dancing lessons."
Norma Better, 63, takes nine medications a day for diabetes, circulation problems and high blood pressure. She carries a card listing her medications and those medications to which she is allergic.
"You have to work to keep up with them," she said.
At the Randallstown seminar, "medications managers" helped seniors organize their medicines by using compartmentalized, plastic cases divided into days of the week and parts of the day.
Diane McNally, a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, told those at the Randallstown meeting that seniors should not stop taking a medication until told to do so by a physician.
"Sometimes senior citizens get depressed, and simply stop taking their medication," she said. "Also, it's important to tell your doctor about side effects and give him an overall view of your condition each time you see him."
Similar seminars will be held Dec. 2 at the Parkville Senior Center, and April 15 at Ateaze Senior Center in Dundalk.
Free medication reviews will be held at selected work sites and senior centers in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Wicomico, Montgomery and Queen Anne's counties throughout October. For more information, call the Maryland Office on Aging at 1-800-AGE-DIAL.