Managing medications was one of my greater challenges when taking care of Dad. Between prescriptions, over the counter drugs, and vitamins, he took 25 different medications a day. Watching his nurses, who trained in medication management, struggle to ensure that he received each dose of medication correctly throughout the day, made me realize that medication management is a challenge we all face, family caregiver and professional alike.
Medication safety is a major concern for caregivers. While medications can help keep your loved one healthy, they also can cause serious problems. When your loved one takes a number of medications, there is a greater chance that the drugs will interact negatively with each other. There also is a greater risk of forgetting to take medications, taking them at the wrong time, or taking too much or too little.
If your loved one is aged 65 and older, they are more prone to taking medications incorrectly. Additionally, they are more likely to use multiple medications. They may also have more difficulty handling medications and understanding instructions due to declining vision, hearing, and memory.
A number of dos and don’ts can help you to get a handle on medication management for your loved one.
- DO make sure that all your loved one’s doctors know about all of you loved one’s medications. An easy way to accomplish this is to keep an up to date medication list in your personal health record. Then make a copy of the list and give it to each of your doctors. In addition to prescriptions, include any over the counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, and herbs.
- DO make sure that your loved one takes each medication exactly as it has been prescribed. You need to know the purpose of each medication; the amount to take and how often to take it; the best time to take it; whether to take it with or without food; and any storage requirements. It’s also helpful to know potential side effects and what to do if they occur.
- DO read the precaution stickers on the label and follow their instructions. Ask your pharmacist to explain the precautions, as well as for tips about using the medicine.
- DO let doctors know immediately about any side effects such as upset stomach, diarrhea, difficulty urinating, constipation, forgetfulness, skin irritation, dizziness, etc. that your loved one experiences, especially after starting any new medication.
- DO try to use the same pharmacy to fill all the prescriptions so that they can help you keep track of everything your loved one is taking.
- DO talk to your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist before adding over the counter medication, vitamins, and supplements to avoid an interaction with another drug your loved one is taking.
- DO keep all medications out of the reach of children.
Five Medication Don’ts:
- DON’T change your medication dose or schedule without talking with your doctor.
- DON’T use medication prescribed for someone else.
- DON’T crush or break pills unless your loved one’s doctor instructs you to do so.
- DON’T use medication that has passed its expiration date.
- DON’T store your loved one’s medications in locations that are either too hot or too cold. For example, the bathroom cabinet may not be the best place for your medication.
You will find more help on managing medications in Medicines and You: A Guide for Older Adults, which is available from eldercare.gov.
For information on personal health records see my earlier post on the Benefits of a Personal Health Record.
Have you discovered other dos and don’ts for managing medications?