How and Where Does Assisted Living Store Resident Medications?

A common reason why a senior moves into assisted living is because of issues associated with medication management. The reality is that nearly all people in their Golden Years take one medication and a significant percentage take four or more meds on a daily basis. Therefore, medication management is crucial. 

If you are transitioning to an assisted living community or have a parent or other loved one making that move, you certainly have an array of questions. These likely include how and where an assisted living community stores resident medication.

Medication Management in Assisted Living

Over 50 percent of residents in a typical assisted living community require assistance with medication management. In assisted living, staff cannot administer medications to residents. Staff can assist residents with reminders to take medication as well as deliver or otherwise make meds available to residents. You need to always keep in mind that assisted living is not a medical care community. Therefore, there are limits to the way in which staff can interact with residents when it comes to the actual administration of medication.

Resident Control Over Medications

The general idea is that a resident is to have control over medications. That is the starting point when it comes to dealing with medications in assisted living. This concept is based on the premise that a resident should be as independent as possible when residing in assisted living.

Having made this point, medication access needs to be controlled to some degree because there are other people living in an assisted living community. Specifically, medication must be securely stored when it is not in use. Secure storage means under lock and key.

Some assisted living communities do permit some residents to keep medications in their living units (rooms or apartments) provided that these meds are secured under lock and key. This means residents must always ensure that their room or apartment doors are always locked when out of the unit. In the alternative, medications must be stored in the unit in some sort of locked box. 

Some assisted living communities elect not to permit residents to keep meds in their private quarters as a general rule. In other instances, a resident might have cognitive issues resulting in memory problems. Thus, even if a resident otherwise would be able to keep meds in his or her unit, these memory issues require storage or medications outside of that person’s private space.

Storage of Medications by Assisted Living Staff

As part of its medication management services for residents, assisted living communities do need to maintain a secure med room. Smaller facilities might have a secured medication cabinet. In any event, this secured space is to remain under lock and key and accessible only to duly authorized care teams or staff members. 

PNR Medications in Assisted Living

PNR medications, or those that are prescribed as needed, present a bit of a challenge when it comes to medication management protocols in assisted living. With medications that are to be taken at a particular time, assisted living staff is prepared to dispense at the appointed hour and systematically makes the meds available to residents in a timely manner.

If a med is prescribed as needed, when a resident needs the medication, that person needs to seek out a staff member to obtain the drug. Some argue that this is an unnecessary imposition on the independence of an otherwise capable resident with the capacity to determine the need for this medication and the ability to store it in his or her own quarters properly. This reality is offset by another – the fact that there will be other residents, some with different capacities, that render self-storage problematic in some instances.

Over-The-Counter Medications in Assisted Living

Over-the-counter medications present a similar dilemma to what we just discussed regarding PNR meds. If a person gets a common headache, the last thing he or she may want to do is troop about looking for a staff member to retrieve a couple of aspirins. Over-the-counter medications may be permitted (sometimes in smaller amounts) in a resident’s room or apartment, even if certain prescription medications are not. The lock and key securing rule would apply to these medications as well.

Prepackaged Medication Doses in Assisted Living

Because many individuals take multiple medications, often at different times of the day, some assisted living communities have turned to prepackaged medication doses. Using this type of system, the particular medications that need to be taken at a specific time of day are placed in individualized packets. This enhances efficiency. In addition, it also has the potential to reduce the risk of medication errors.

If you are considering a move into assisted living, or if you have a parent or other loved one contemplating such a move, part of the due diligence process needs to fully understand how a particular community addresses medication management and storage. You don’t want to be surprised about medication management protocols after you actually make a move into an assisted living facility.