Caring for an Elderly Loved One Who Takes Multiple Medications
Why Medication Management is Important
It is common for Elderly and Senior individuals to take more medications than the rest of the general population. As health falters and Elders develop health issues or chronic illnesses, medications can take the form of various prescription drugs, over-the-counter-drugs, vitamins, or herbal supplements.
Polypharmacy is the use of multiple medications by a patient - usually 5 or more. Although in many cases, the use of multiple medications is appropriate, it can still be dangerous when your loved one doesn't have a good medication management system in place or because of the potential interactions that one drug may have with another - creating unwanted side effects that can be mistaken for a symptom of an illness.
Doctors and pharmacists aim to decrease the risk of drug interaction, but this task can be difficult especially if your loved one has been prescribed medications by different doctors or your loved one takes vitamins, herbal supplements, or over-the-counter drugs that your doctor doesn't even know about.
What You Can Do:
- Gather a list of all the medications your loved one takes that includes drug name, dosage size, and recommended dosage. Visit your primary doctor to discuss the safety of all the medications taken and to look for any unwanted drug interactions. Use the "brownbag" method and put all the medications your loved one takes in a bag to the doctor visit.
- See if the doctor can simplify the patient's medication intake by prescribing only one medication instead of multiple to treat a condition or choosing a medication that doesn't need to be taken three times a day. Duplicate medications MUST be eliminated.
- Obtain your medications from only one pharmacy so that only one pharmacist is informed of the medications your loved one is taking and they can look out for any potentially negative drug interactions in addition to your primary doctor.
- Always be knowledgeable about the side effects of each medication and be sure to look out for them. If your loved one is experiencing the side effects of a medication, the doctor may mistake it for a symptom of chronic illness and prescribe even more medication. A rule of thumb is to consider any new symptom as drug-related until proven otherwise.
- Be weary and keep a close lookout for any new signs or symptoms your loved one is experiencing that could be attributable to a medication side effect. If you do notice something new, keep a journal log of your suspicions and discuss with your doctor as soon as possible.
Medication adherence is of critical importance to ensure your loved one's safety and well-being when taking multiple medications. Elderly individuals who live independently have the highest probability of being non-compliant to taking their medication consistently. This irresponsible behavior can have deadly consequences, especially in the case of an overdose or too much dose skipping.
It's not uncommon for Elders and Seniors to not have a good medication management system in place for responsible organization. First and foremost, it's important that your Elderly or Senior loved one understands why they must take each specific medication. Pill organizer boxes are one of the most common ways for Elders, Seniors, and Caregivers to ensure that medication is taken on time and to limit confusion when there are multiple medications to be taken.
Pill Organizer Management & Organization Tips:
- To more easily remember which medications are which, consider using a marker to write information in larger text that is easier to read. For example, you can write "Arthritis Pain Take With Meal 3 Times a Day." This will make transferring medication to a pill organizer easier as well.
- Choose a Pill Organizer that has more than one section for each day to represent times of the day that medication needs to be taken, for example, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Bed Time. Find one day during the week where you can refill the pillbox for the next week's daily dosages.
- Choose a Pill Organizer that is most convenient for your loved one - whether you choose one that is for one day, each day of the week, or the full week. Choose an Organizer that is able to detach a day's supply in case your loved one is out in town for the day.
- Electric Pill Organizers can be advantageous because they have alarm clocks that can remind you of when you need to take medication.
- Document everything. Keep a list that includes each medication's name, what it's for, recommended dosage, potential side effects, when it was prescribed, and who prescribed it.
The Importance of Working Together
Physicians, pharmacists, and caregivers of an Elderly individual all play a crucial role in ensuring health and safety with medication. Various factors at home or personality traits can sometimes make it difficult for your loved one to pay great attention to their medication management, but as caregivers, we can help enhance the quality of life of Elderly individuals by staying well-informed about the risks of medication misuse.