One of the many tasks frequently set before caregivers, both professional and non-professional, is the management of medication. Seniors, as they age, tend to be on multiple medications. AARP says that 75% of people 45 or older are on some kind of prescription medication, and that they average four separate prescriptions daily! Some medications come with complicated instructions (do not eat an hour before taking this; take with a full glass of water; take half in the morning, etc.) that can make scheduling, reminding, and managing more difficult with time.
Here are 7 ways to simplify medication management and make life just a bit easier for you and the one receiving care:
- Ask questions of the doctor and the pharmacist.
Make sure you compile a list of specific questions. Ask for specific instructions, or ways that you or your loved one can help the medication work (or avoid deactivating it by eating certain foods, for example).
See if it is possible to lower dosages, get on generic versions of a medication, or lower the number of times your loved one takes a pill. All of this will lower the risk for side effects and save time and money. The fewer pills, the lower the risk of forgetting medication.
Many doctors will require that you add extra time to an appointment in order to thoroughly discuss this. Do not be afraid to request extra time if necessary!
Pharmacists often know the most about how medications interact. Make sure that prescriptions written for your loved one don’t counteract each other or put them at risk for severe side effects. This also includes over-the-counter medications, such as vitamin supplements or aspirin.
- Take a list of medications with you everywhere.
If there is a complication, a doctor, pharmacist, or emergency medical professional will need to know what medications may already be present in your loved one’s system, or what they might need in order to treat serious conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Get a pill box.
It may seem clichéd or silly, but even older patients without difficulty remembering their schedules will have an easier time managing meds when they are separated by day or even by time. Even better, you can fill it for them and check it, so that even if you are not there each day you can make sure they get their meds daily.
- Associate taking a pill with a normal daily activity.
If you always take a pill before brushing your teeth, even if you forget, brushing your teeth will remind you because your brain will be missing an important step in a routine. Establishing this routine with a loved one—taking it with lunch, or with a morning cup of tea—will help you both remember medications and their appropriate routines.
- Find applications that will keep the schedule for you, and keep track of your health and possible symptoms.
Most of us now own smartphones, and we use them constantly—to email, text, use social media, play games—and there are apps that will help you remember medications. Many elderly loved ones do not have smartphones, but if you are a caregiver, you can call and remind them at a given time when your phone goes off (even from far away!), or, if you are with them most of the day, you can simply set up the medication for them. There are lots of choices here, such as MyMedSchedule (which allows you to print schedules to be posted around the house!) or RxmindMe.
In general, tracking your health and medicine dosages via an app is not a hard-and-fast rule for increasing medication dosage compliance, according to the Journal of American Pharmacy Association. In fact, it is largely untested. Yet it does seem likely to help, especially when it becomes difficult to keep track of it all by memory.
- Remind, check, and double-check.
Many of those in need of caregiving will begin to experience cognitive decline as they age, so even seemingly “with it” elders may forget medications from time to time. This is not necessarily a serious medical issue, but it could become one, as medical complications such as high blood pressure can raise risk for cognitive function loss.
If you are a caregiver, remind the one receiving care to take medications and how to do so. Then, check that they have done it. Double-check later, to make sure that the person took the right medication the proper way. This may be a phone call or a gentle in-person conversation.
- Know what to do if a dosage is skipped or taken improperly
Ask your doctor or pharmacist what to do if a given medication is missed or taken when it should not be. Some medications have serious risks associated with improper dosages, and some are less risky. Knowing what to do will help you quickly resolve the problem of noncompliance with medicines.
AARP. Medicines Made Easy. Available at http://assets.aarp.org/www.aarp.org_/articles/health/images/meds/meds_made_easy.pdf. Retrieved 2/5/2016.
American Heart Association. Taking Control of Your Medicines. Available at
Dayer, Lindsey, Heldenbrand, Seth, Anderson, Paul, Gubbins, Paul O., Martin, Bradley C. (2013). Journal of the American Pharmacy Association, 53(2):172-181. Available at http://www.mymedschedule.com/assets/downloads/Smartphone_Medication_Adherence_Apps.pdf. Retrieved 2/5/2016.
Metz, Jennifer. (January 31, 2011). Managing Your Loved One’s Medication: Tips for Family Caregivers. ABC News. Available at http://abcnews.go.com/Health/ElderCare/elderly-caregivertips-managing-loved-medication/story?id=12733404. Retrieved 2/5/2016.
Newhook, Emily. (March 9, 2015). The Quantified Self: Medication Tracking Apps. GW Public Health. George Washington University. Available at https://publichealthonline.gwu.edu/quantified-self-health-tracking-technology/. Retrieved 2/5/2016.