How to Assist a Senior Effectively Manage Multiple Medications

Seniors are at an increased risk for problems associated with prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal or other alternative medicines. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, 89 percent of seniors report taking prescription medications. 54 percent of seniors report taking four or more medications.

If you are the adult child of a senior parent, you may be called upon to assist your mother or father with certain activities of daily living, including medication management. In this article, we address medication management problems and how you can assist a senior in more effectively managing medications for your senior parent.

The sheer number of medications an average senior take contributes significantly to problems associated with the following:

  • Noncompliance
  • Drug interactions
  • Adverse drug reactions
  • Misuse of medications

Physiological changes in the body associated with aging also make the elderly more susceptible to the undesirable effects of drugs. Some medications should not be prescribed to older adults because they are more toxic than comparable drugs in a pharmacy.

Even when used properly and as prescribed, drugs may have a variety of negative consequences that include:

  • Urinary problems nor incontinence
  • Gastrointestinal issues that include constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Changes in mental health like depression or delirium
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Injuries like hip fractures
  • Breathing problems
  • Skin rashes
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Neurological problems

Proper medication management is crucial to ensuring seniors obtain the optimum benefits of prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. In addition, medical management is necessary to avoid adverse consequences. Remember that among the elderly population, adverse drug reactions are thought to cause between 10 and 30 percent of all hospital admissions.

Keep Updated on All Medications Taken

Ensure the senior’s primary care physician is aware of all medications a senior is taking. In addition, it’s important to keep an up-to-date list or even bring the bottles and containers to each medical visit. Be sure that a specialist a senior sees knows all medications.

Obtain Written Instructions for All Medications

Ensure that your senior parent understands when and how to administer each medication he or she is taking. Call the physician or office nurse to obtain these instructions if you cannot accompany them during a medical appointment. As an aside, you want to ensure that your aging parent has access to readable written instructions about medications. Remember that directions on a bottle can be quite small and unreadable. Therefore, alternative written directions in larger print are needed to ensure proper medication management for an aging parent. You want to keep a copy of these instructions with you as well.

Obtain Written Detailed Information About Potential Side Effects

You will also want to ensure that you obtain understandable written information about possible side effects associated with your senior parent’s medications. As is the case with medication directions, you need to make certain these possible side effects are in a font and size that your parent can readily read. It is also incredibly important to maintain an accessible copy of the information about the potential side effects of medications your elder parent is taking.

Make Sure a Senior Parent Understands How to Take Medications

In addition to ensuring that your aging parent has proper and readable instructions, you must be certain that your parent fully understands how and when to take medications. Seniors often get off track when it comes to taking medications. Sometimes that results from not fully understanding how to take a particular medication. For example, a parent may wrongfully assume that even though a drug’s direction says to be taken at a particular time in a specific way, an older person might conclude that these directions don’t matter that much when they do.

Make Sure a Senior Parent Can Open Medicine Containers

Make sure your parent is capable of opening the packaging of medications. You may want to consider the purchase of a pill box that is easier to open. There are pill boxes that can also assist you in better organizing pills for your parent for easier and safe dosing and med tracking. Some pharmacies even offer pre-sorted medications that come in easy-to-open blister packs. However, if your loved one has trouble remembering when they’ve taken their medication and keeping their pill box straight, a locking medication organizer might be wise to prevent them from disorganizing their doses.

Use One Pharmacy for Medications

If possible, attempt to use one pharmacy to fill all medications to all your elder parent’s prescriptions. This course makes prescription information easily accessible at one location, and medication management is easier.

Having one pharmacist allows for more effective screening for drug interactions. The pharmacist will also be better positioned to answer any questions about the combined use of prescription and nonprescription drugs and the impact of supplements on medications. Some pharmacies also provide customers with a toll-free number for more immediate assistance.

Use Medication Prompts and Reminders as Needed

Consider implementing a reminder and prompting system if seniors do not consistently take their medications correctly. Medication reminders can consist of a simple phone call from you, another family member, or other caregivers, an electronic prompt, or a personal visit.

Regularly Review a Senior Parent’s Meds

Regularly review all medications in your parent’s home to properly dispose of any outdated or no longer part of your mother or father’s healthcare regimen.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that managing medications are one of the instrumental activities of daily living. Instrumental activities of daily living effectively measure a senior’s ability to live alone. If you have determined that your loved one can take the correct dosages of medications at the right times, even with some help, safe and independent living seems to be a reasonable alternative. If the ability to independently manage medications declines and aids like medication boxes and reminders are ineffective, it is time to consider increasing supportive services.

These include in-home care to assist with medication management and to help with some other activities of daily living. Assisted living is also an appropriate alternative.