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Medication Management Tips for Caregivers and Senior Citizens

Medication Management Tips for Caregivers and Senior Citizens

Brittany Cotton on May 3rd 2022

8 Medication Management Tips for Caregivers

Use these 8 simple steps to help seniors, caregivers better manage their medications.

When it comes to medication use, seniors take more prescription and over-the-counter drugs than any other age group, and they are most likely to experience problems because of their medications.

Modern medicine can work wonders. However, in order to be effective, medicine needs to be taken safely, according to prescribing guidelines, and patients and health care providers need to be vigilant about the dangers of drug interactions.

The average American senior takes five or more prescription medications daily, and many of them can't read the prescription label or understand the prescribing instructions, according to the National Council on Patient Information and Education.

"Unless they reside in a senior living community or have another form of assistance, it can be very difficult for seniors to manage their own medications," says Kim Estes, senior vice president of clinical services for Brookdale Senior Living. "A lot of factors make medication management a challenge for seniors, including the sheer number of prescriptions many of them take in a day."

Medication Management challenges

While doctors prescribe medication to treat a range of chronic conditions from arthritis to diabetes and high blood pressure, seniors may find managing their medications difficult for multiple reasons:

  • Many meds and many prescribers - Seniors who are on multiple medications are often prescribed to them by multiple doctors, who may or may not be aware of other medications the senior is already taking. Taking a large number of medications can increase the risk of a drug interaction that harms seniors' health, rather than helps them.
  • Adverse side effects - If a medication makes a senior feel ill, he or she may stop taking it.
  • Lack of knowledge - If they don't understand exactly what the medicine is supposed to do for them, seniors may feel they don't need it and discontinue use.
  • Physical challenges - Age-related physical challenges such as hearing or vision loss, dexterity issues or trouble swallowing can make it difficult for seniors to take their medications as prescribed.
  • Cognitive challenges - Seniors with memory loss or dementia may forget to take their medications as prescribed.
  • Cost - Even with Medicare and supplemental health insurance, many medications can come with a hefty price tag. Seniors may not be able to afford a medication their doctor prescribed.

Medication management made easier

"Fortunately, seniors and their caregivers can take some fairly easy steps to help them better manage their medications," Estes says. "These steps take a little time and effort, but they can go a long way toward helping seniors use their medicines more effectively."

  • Most seniors take five or more medications a day, and those with severe health issues or who are in the hospital may take significantly more than that. Make a list of every medication you take, what it's for, and what the pill actually looks like.
  • Make a checklist of all your medications. Every time you take a prescription, note the date, time and dosage on your checklist. Medical Care Alert offers a free Emergency Medical Information form to list your medications, and other critical health info.
  • If you have trouble reading the labels on your prescriptions or can't open the bottle, ask your pharmacist to provide your medicine in easy-to-open containers with large-print labels.
  • Make a plan for getting your prescriptions. You may decide to schedule a drive to the pharmacy every month on a certain day or have someone drive you there. You may also find an online pharmacy that can deliver your prescriptions to your home.
  • When you go to the doctor, take your list of prescriptions with you, especially if you're seeing him or her for the first time. Your list will help the doctor know what medications you're already taking.
  • Work with your doctors to see if you can reduce the number of pills you take by consolidating medicines. For example, if you take a pill to reduce water retention and a medication for high blood pressure, some prescription drugs combine both types of medicine into a single pill.
  • A study by the University of Arizona found that having a pharmacist on a senior's care team helped keep seniors safer and improved their ability to take medications as prescribed. Keep all your prescriptions with one pharmacy and get to know the pharmacists who work there. Your pharmacist may be able to help you spot potential drug interactions.
  • Technology can help you remember to take medications on time. Set an alarm on your cellphone or download an event reminder app on your smartphone to help you remember when it's time to take your medicine.

The Importance of Prescription Safety in Senior Citizens

pharmacist getting prescription

Many people take their medication without any safety precautions, and experts predict a potential increase in this issue as the population ages.

Seniors have an increased risk of accidental over-medication, leading to severe problems like drug interactions or severe adverse side effects. Prescription drugs are not as straightforward for seniors to understand and follow because aging often brings about cognitive changes and memory loss.

1. Age-Related Brain Changes

The brain of an older adult is more like that of a child. Even though it is becoming more and more common to be 70 years old or above, this is still very uncommon. Due to the aging process, the brain becomes less responsive, and changes in areas such as the hippocampus and frontal lobe become necessary. It leads to a decline in the ability to process information, which then causes memory loss.

2. Memory Issues Such as Dementia

Dementia can occur at any age, but it is most prevalent in seniors 65 and above. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation,  dementia, agitation, and irritability with decreased mental function, whether alone or with others. Alzheimer's disease is one of the most severe types of dementia, and the symptoms can include memory loss and impaired language.

3. Medication mix-ups.

MedReady Automatic Pill Dispenser

Over-medication is a severe issue for the senior population, especially prescription medications, because of their increased risk for side effects. The most common occurrence is opioid drugs mixed with another morphine-like drug, leading to an overdose. The elderly often suffer from confusion, fatigue, withdrawal symptoms, and even kidney failure. Other medications to watch for are anticholinergic drugs such as quinine and doxazosin, which can cause too much drying of the skin and lips. Many medications have known side effects, especially in seniors with mental impairment.

Medication mix-ups can also lead to falling in the home, which is one of the leading causes of death among seniors.  Most seniors who experience a fall will no longer be able to live independently in their own home.  An automatic medication pill dispenser can help seniors take the correct does at the right time, eliminating the guesswork out of taking their daily medications. 

4. Drug Interactions

Many of these issues begin at pharmacies, which are supposed to make sure your prescription is correct and safe. However, many errors become present due to a lack of communication between pharmacists and doctors. These issues can include an allergy to certain drugs or drug interactions that cause side effects, including  falls. Seniors need to know what prescriptions they are taking so their doctor knows what other prescriptions they can take or don't need to be taking.

5. Bias in Medication Recommendations

Since the senior population has an increased risk of medication-related issues, they are also at a higher risk of getting biased medical advice and suggestions. Doctors are more likely to recommend a prescription medication over alternative or non-prescription drugs. Other situations where seniors are at a higher risk for sabotage include their doctor forgetting to mention the importance of blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes monitoring, leading to serious health complications down the road. Seniors should be proactive in their treatment and make sure that their doctor prescribes any medications that need to be taken daily.

Medication safety is paramount, especially for seniors, because of the higher risks of age. It is also very easy for seniors to take their medication without considering their side effects, which can cause life-threatening dangers. The most common consequence of not following prescriptions correctly is an overdose or an interaction with another drug, which can cause a severe adverse reaction.  Med Communications offers a free guide that can help people be aware of these risks to make sure they are taking their medications correctly and on time. 

Medication Tips For Seniors

Most of the time, the medication you have been prescribed is helpful for maintaining your health or getting better after an illness.

However, even if you understand how important the medication is, it can still be very difficult to remember to take it all of the time.

Why Do I Keep Forgetting To Take My Medication?

Forgetting to take your medication can happen for a number of reasons and it depends on the person.

One of the first ways you can make a change is by determining why you can’t seem to remember to take them. For some people it is simply just harder to form a habit and any disruption in their routine can throw off their progress. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, but on average it takes about 2 months.

People’s routine can be disrupted by anything, and it doesn’t have to be a major disruption to cause you to forget that you were supposed to take your medication that morning. Even something as simple as sleeping in an extra hour can throw your whole day off.

For some people the time of day has a lot to do with how easy it is for them to remember. If you take your medicine in the morning, but you never eat breakfast at the same time and that is when you try to remember to do it, you might have more trouble forming the habit. However, if you go to bed around the same time every night, and take it right before you shut your lights off you might have less trouble remembering.

Sometimes remembering to take your medication is as simple as prioritizing it more. When we are busy some things get pushed to the back burner, and for you this could be taking your medication. However, taking it consistently is very important especially if it is time sensitive.

You may be forgetting to take your medication because you haven’t put enough priority on it yet. If you can identify why you are forgetting it will be much easier to correct it.

Here are some tips for remembering to take your medication so that you don’t have to worry about missing a dose anymore.

Make a Medication List

Vial of Life Medication ListLists are a really great tool if you are the kind of person who enjoys referencing something throughout the day to stay on task. If you aren’t sure how well a list would work for you, it never hurts to give it a try. Whether you are using the notes app on your phone, or a pad and pencil that you keep by your bedside, making a list of everything you need to do the next day can also be a relaxing way to go to bed each night. Once you have created the list, you’ll want to reference it a few times a day to make sure that you are staying on task, and to remind yourself to take your medication when it is time.

Medical Care Alert offers a free EMS Emergency Information Form you can download that lists your doctors, ailments, medications and more. Keep a copy on the refrigerator where it's easy to find when you need it.

Take All Pills At The Same Time

If you take other medications or vitamins, it can make it a lot easier to remember if you take them all at once. For example, if you take your vitamins with breakfast but your one other medication at night, you might want to switch to taking that pill in the morning too. This will make it much easier to remember and you won’t have to worry about forgetting. Check with your pharmacist that it's OK to take your pills together.

Leave Reminder Notes

Sometimes you just can’t remember something until you physically see a reminder, which is why leaving notes can be really helpful. Put some notes around the house that you’ll see for sure so that it is much harder for you to forget about the medication completely. For example, if you always use a coffee machine in the morning, put the note right on top or next to that so you are sure to see it.

Get An Automatic Medication Pill Dispenser

MedReady Automatic Pill Dispenser

With an automatic medication pill dispenser, you eliminate the guesswork of taking the right pills at the right time.

An automatic pill dispenser is easy to use and set up. Just set the time of day you want to take your pills, and the number of times a day (i.e. 9:00 AM dosage, 4:00 PM dosage), and fill the dispenser. When it's time to take your medicine, the device will sound an alarm and dispense your pills.

A great example is the MedReady pill dispenser from Medical Care Alert. It can dispense up to 9 pills at a time, up to four times a day. It can even notify family or caregivers if you miss a dosage so you'll never forget to take your pills.