Senior medication management is one of the essential tasks of a primary caregiver. Because an average senior takes about four or more prescription drugs daily, handling medications requires careful attention. This task may not come easy for family caregivers who aren’t prepared to deal with complicated medication regimes for their older parents.
If this sounds like you, this medical management guide outlines the main points and potential issues that family caregivers must know to ensure safe medication practices.
Top 3 things primary caregivers must know about medications
1. Medication nonadherence is costly.
Seniors take medicines either to recover from an illness or to manage a lifelong condition. Intentional or not, missing a dose can lead to a snowball of negative consequences, such as hospitalization, health complications and even fatality.
The economic impact of medication nonadherence costs $4.5 billion for those with diabetes and $5.6 billion for those with heart failure. You can evade further health care expenses if you help a loved one take their medications religiously.
2. Know your loved one’s medications.
Many seniors retire in considerably good health and can complete tasks on their own, including handling medications. However, forgetfulness is quite common as people age, and many primary caregivers must help manage a loved one’s medications to improve adherence.
To start, talk to your family doctor and get a list of every drug your senior parent is taking. Know what each medication is for, its required doses, potential side effects and other safety concerns. Knowing all this information helps you respond appropriately in case medication-related issues arise.
3. Develop a system to improve medication compliance.
One of the tasks of primary caregivers is to boost medication compliance. Many seniors experience occasional short-term memory loss as they get older, resulting in missed medications. With a medication system in place, you can turn things around. Try these four strategies:
I. Create a senior medication management system.
It’s strenuous to stick to a medication plan with complicated prescriptions. Suppose your loved one needs to take one pill on an empty stomach, then another after lunch, and one more an hour after dinner without water. Following a routine like this is challenging. If your loved one takes more than three pills a day, use pill organizers, pill dispensers with an alarm, or customized pill packs to simplify medication management.
II. Find options for seniors with memory impairment.
Primary caregivers are part of the solution to improving medication adherence for those with memory impairment. If an aging parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s, subscribe to medical alert systems to get automated calls or messages.
Another technique is to associate daily routines as cues for scheduling medications. Examples are meal times for the first dose of pills and bedtimes for the last dose.
III. Find options for seniors with swallowing difficulties.
If a senior parent has swallowing problems, ask your pharmacist if there’s a different dosage form for your loved one’s medication. Some over-the-counter products are available in liquid, injection, suppository or skin patch forms that make taking meds less difficult.
IV. Hire in-home care.
In-home caregivers can help primary caregivers reduce the cost of medication nonadherence. Caregivers can give reminders, administer medications and pick up prescriptions so your loved one doesn’t run out of meds. More significantly, they can also assist with other daily tasks, like meal preparation and companionship.
Key issues in senior medication management
1. Lack of efficacy
Certain medications may not be as effective as they can be, especially if your loved one isn’t taking the correct dose or if certain foods are interacting adversely with the medications. If this happens, consult your doctor for advice. They may suggest you increase the dosage or adjust your loved one’s diet.
2. Side effects
Side effects happen when medications cause a problem because they do more than treat the illness or condition. Based on a survey, around 14% of adults had experienced severe side effects from taking drugs in the last five years. And the impact can cause serious problems, especially if the side effects are severe, such as incontinence, fall risk, changes in speech and memory, and delirium.
Other side effects in taking medications include:
- Excessive drowsiness
- Loss of appetite or increase in appetite
- Muscle weakness
Before giving any medication to a loved one, discuss the possible side effects with your doctor and ask how to manage them.
3. Adverse effects
Adverse effects refer to unwanted side effects. For example, a senior taking medications to reduce high blood pressure may experience lightheadedness or dizziness if the meds lower the blood pressure too much. Some pain relievers can also cause damaging adverse effects, such as stomach bleeding and liver damage, if not used carefully.
A senior may experience adverse effects if they have an allergy, if the food they consume interacts with the medicine, if the medication is administered incorrectly, or for other reasons.
It’s safer for primary caregivers to assume that all drugs carry adverse effects, even over-the-counter or herbal medicines. So, be sure your loved one only takes meds prescribed by their doctor. Furthermore, never allow them to take any drug with alcohol, another medication or vitamins, and always ask your doctor about medication safety standards.
4. Improper storage of medications
Air, light, heat and moisture can damage your medications, so be sure to store your loved one’s meds properly.
Never keep medications in the bathroom cabinet; the moisture from the shower can make them less potent. Always keep any prescription drugs in a cool, dry area, and consult a pharmacist about any specific storage instructions.
Primary caregivers and senior medication management
Family caregivers are often involved in various medication management activities, such as obtaining refills, preparing and organizing pillboxes, and keeping medications on track. It can get confusing. Although using reminder tools can help tremendously, it’s also OK to ask for help when medication concerns become complex.
People often underestimate the dangers of poor medication adherence, which is why family or primary caregivers should consider medication therapy training to promote safe, appropriate and effective medication use.