How to Help Your Aging Loved One Manage Their Medications

As our parents age and their health issues increase, the number of medications that are prescribed by their doctors multiplies as well.  Many seniors are using non-medicinal supplements in addition to their prescriptions as the holistic health movement continues to grow. Keeping track of all of these medications is a confusing task for many seniors, and polypharmacy – taking multiple medications for different conditions – is a major health hazard for the elderly.  In fact, the results of one survey reported that: 

  • More than half of seniors polled took at least 5 different prescriptions
  • About 25% of seniors took between 10-19 pills every day
  • Three in five admitted they often forgot to take their medication
  • Among those who took more than medications, 63% reported forgetting doses, compared to 51% who took less than five medications (1) 

So, what can we do to support our aging parents and ensure that they are managing their prescriptions successfully?  Family members and caregivers can help their loved ones by 1) avoiding major medication challenges and 2) help them keep track of their medications by making sure they are taken at the right time and at the right dosage.  

The Top Medication Challenges for Seniors include…

  1. Forgetting to take medications: For those who suffer chronic conditions that require multiple medicines and for seniors with memory problems, remembering to take their prescriptions alone can be extremely difficult.  Frequent changes in prescriptions and/or dosages can lead to confusion as well. 
  2. Taking too much: Overdoses are the number one cause for medication fatalities, and prescription drugs that have abuse potential such as painkillers, Xanax, and stimulants are at a higher risk.  It is vital to make sure that seniors are not taking more medicine than prescribed and to watch out for signs of overuse including over-sedation, mood-swings, and premature refills.  
  3. Adverse effects and interactions:  An adverse effect is an unwanted side effect of a medication, which often cause seniors to stop taking a medication. Drug interactions with another medication, foods, or drinks are another common problem and close attention must be paid to reduce these effects.  
  4. Confusing one medication for another:  Prescription medications often have names that are hard to remember and easy to mix up with one another.  Seniors, especially those with dementia are prone to mixing up pill bottles and pills when they appear to be similar. 
  5. Not taking the medication in the right way:  Following instructions and remembering instructions for drug administration is another challenge.  The FDA reported that nearly one-fifth of medication errors are due to patients taking them the wrong way, such as swallowing rather than taken sub-lingually (under the tongue) or injected intravenously.  
  6. High Medication Costs: The ability to afford their prescriptions is the number one concern among seniors taking more than five medications.  Low-income elders, or those on fixed incomes may not have the money to afford the medications they need.  Some will cut back on the prescribed does, or go without necessary medications for long periods of time, most often deeming them ineffective.  
One of the most common causes of hospitalizations in the elderly is related to errors with medication use. Making sure your loved one doesn’t forget to take their medication as prescribed by the doctor on-time and in the correct dose is an essential component of the care management process. Mavencare™ provides medication supervision to those who require it. The punctual reminders given by our caregivers ensure that medication is never missed or taken incorrectly.
Photo by Valentin Gaina

Pro-Tips for Managing Your Senior’s Medications

To help your senior avoid these common and consequential challenges, we’ve put together a list of the best strategies to support your parent’s and help to manage their medications:

1. Make a List

Create and continuously update a medication list for your parent.  This list should include each drug name (generic and brand), why it is being taken, its dosage, and any special directions (how many times a day, when it should be taken, what it should be taken with and what it should not be).  If your parent takes supplemental medications that are not prescribed, add these to the list as well. There are a few apps that can help to create this list, but experts recommend that seniors have paper version to keep and to take to doctor’s appointments. 

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2. Set up an Organizing System

An organizing system is key in helping parents manage their medications, and luckily very simple to set up.  The most common method of organization is a daily pill organizer (available at most drug stores and pharmacies), which have a compartment for each day’s worth of medications.  Not to fear for seniors with multiple doses a day- many have compartments for each day so that senior’s can easily identify which pills to take in the morning, midday, and at night on each day of the week.  If your senior has trouble remembering to take their medications, other electronic pull reminders have alarms and can relay information verbally based on personalized recordings.  You can help your parent by creating their list of medications, then helping them to set up their organizer as often as they require.  

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3. Try to Consolidate Providers and Pharmacies

Minimize the number of providers and pharmacists that you use to make it easier for yourself and for the providers who are coordinating care to maintain communication and prevent confusion.  If possible, try to use only one pharmacy for medications to add another layer of security around appropriate dosage and adverse interactions.  The pharmacist will have the full list of prescriptions that your parent is on and can more easily look out for harmful interactions and keep track of refills.  

Check out PillPack, an online pharmacy that sorts and delivers prescriptions if you are looking for a change.  

4. Talk to Their Doctor and Pharmacist

Key questions to ask: How does the drug work? How do we monitor if the drug is not working or working? What are potential side effects? Is this a brand name or generic? Is this medicine safe to take with the other drugs they are currently on?

Bring medications (or medication list) to the doctor with you and your parent.  The more information that your doctor has in front of them, the more easily they can identify any problems with your parent’s prescriptions.  It is also vital to know the side effect of your parent’s medications and tell your provider about any previous drug interactions that your senior has had.  Seniors can be more sensitive to some drugs than others, and are more likely to experience adverse side effects.  Align with your parent’s doctor that their dosage is fit for their age, and to err on the side of caution, start with a lower dose and slowly increase to decrease the risk of adverse effects.  Your parent’s doctor and pharmacist should be able to answer all questions regarding medications your loved one is taking, and how the medications will affect them.  If they don’t, or you feel that your provider and/or pharmacist is not providing reliable information, get a second opinion and do not be afraid to seek out additional advice.  

Try a doctor’s visit worksheet, such as this one, and research die effects at sites like http://www.drugs.com/sfx/

5. Maintain Close Communication with Your Senior about Their Medicines

By speaking up and continuing to talk to your senior about their medications, even if they resist, you can prevent major health hazards.  Encourage them to do the same with their doctors, pharmacist, and/or other caregivers and to always ask questions.  If your loved one shows signs of being unable to manage their medications, increased confusion, or has received a diagnosis of dementia, do not let them manage their medications themselves.  Closely monitor their situation for signs of medication management mistakes, including pill hoarding, medicines lying around that are not completely taken, or refills that have not been ordered or picked up on time.  It is key to be open with your loved one and the rest of your family about the support that is necessary to ensure their good health, and to coordinate tasks with your family and friends when possible.   Perhaps most importantly, your loved one will also appreciate having family and friends around who are supporting them and showing them that they care.  

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NEED HELP WITH CARING FOR YOUR LOVED ONE?

Anyone with hands-on responsibility for an aging loved one needs a break occasionally, if not regularly. We help families like yours to the right type of care and find the best possible caregiver for your needs. Our highly qualified and compassionate care coordinators can help make the decision easier and answer any questions you have regarding your unique situation.

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