Seniors rely more than any other group on prescribed medication. Unfortunately, while medication is prescribed to solve medical problems, it can often actually become the cause of others.
Seniors account for over a third of hospital stays in the United States, according to the Department of Health, and over half of those stays are due to adverse drug events. Since seniors rely on lifesaving medication, their instructions should be closely followed to avoid any accidents or injuries.
The most common mistakes that seniors make when taking medication is taking it incorrectly, such as taking too many or too few pills at once. Ensure that you have a plan for your loved one when it comes to their medication — consult their doctor and pharmacist for proper dosage, visit them frequently to ensure medication is being taken properly, and do your part as a caregiver to provide a clear structure to their daily lives.
1. Make a clear list.
One of the most important things you can do as a caregiver is to compile a thorough and accurate list of all the drugs your loved one currently takes — including vitamins and other supplements. The list should include the dosage and the time that the senior must take the medication, and include details such as expiration dates, any potential interactions and whether the medication must be taken with food or water. Carry an up-to-date list when with your senior loved one in case of an emergency medical visit.
2. Ask plenty of questions.
Your senior family member or friend may not be able to ask the questions that need to be asked — so be their advocate. Ask why your loved one needs to take the prescribed drug, what the side effects may be, and how the new drug prescribed may interact with the drugs already prescribed. You may also ask these questions again at the pharmacy; pharmacists have in-depth knowledge of medications, and may spot an issue that doctors miss.
Ask them to describe exactly when and how each drug should be taken instead of relying on the written prescription or what is printed on the bottle. Write these instructions and notes in a notebook, and doublecheck that everything you write down is accurate. Afterwards, type any relevant notes in clear, direct language and print it out in a large, legible font. Place these notes near your loved one’s prescriptions.
3. Do your own research.
It does not hurt to conduct your own research on the particular medication your senior loved one is prescribed to understand why it was prescribed. The internet can be a valuable resource, but be wary of the information found on it — make sure you are reading from a trusted, reliable source. One such resource is the American Geriatric Society’s Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults.
However, do not rely only on information found on the Internet. If you see something that raises a red flag, ask the opinion of your loved one’s doctor — but do not start at-home treatments for a condition that may not exist.
4. Use the same pharmacy.
By going to the same pharmacy for all prescriptions, you can help facilitate proper medical management of prescription drugs. The pharmacists will get to know the patient and the various medications he or she takes, allowing them to give better insight to any complications or issues that arise.
A single pharmacy makes it easier to obtain records of all your purchases and act as a better source for questions about your loved one’s health and medication. Filling prescriptions at different pharmacies can cause a dangerous situation with drug interactions — the pharmacists won’t know if your loved one is taking something else. If you do have to fill out your loved one’s prescriptions at a different pharmacy, make sure to bring the same medication list you would prepare for your doctor.
5. Separate the medication and write instructions.
Properly separating drugs is very important when managing your senior loved one’s medication. Use the same bottle the medication came in when possible, and never mix different medications into the same container. Using a dedicated pill case, such a seven-day container, can be helpful to remember dosages — if you and your senior loved one decide to use one, make sure everyone knows how to use it and when to refill the pills.
Type out detailed instructions to take medication for your senior loved one. These should not only include the doctor’s notes, but also details such as what pills need to be taken, on what day and at what time. The list should include the doctor’s phone number as well as your own just in case there is any confusion.
6. Closely monitor medication.
Always check in on your loved one to see how taking their medication is going, especially if they live alone. Count their pills when you are visiting to ensure they have not missed any or taken too many; make sure that you are up to date on any health issues they may be experiencing.
Look for potentials signs of dementia such as forgetting to take medication or taking the wrong type of medication. If your loved one does show signs of cognitive impairment, consult his or her doctor, and make sure that someone else is in charge of medication intake going forward.
7. Use your smartphone.
There are a number of innovative ways to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to medical management. In today’s smartphone age, solutions can be found right in your or your loved one’s pocket — something as simple as setting daily alarms on your loved one’s phone with instructions can help remind them to take their medication. Set alarms on your own phone as well, so you can text or call them to check in at pill time. There are a wide variety of apps available for smartphones that can not only set reminders, but also let you know when you need to fill new prescriptions.