10 Tips for Managing Medication at Home

Medication management is important for anyone who takes prescriptions or over-the-counter medications. Oftentimes, individuals who take multiple meds at the same time are women and men in their Golden Years. Medication management is crucial among people who are more vulnerable to harm and even to making mistakes regarding their medications. Therefore, implementing an effective medication management regimen for an older individual who lives on his or her own is crucial.

There are 10 important tips to consider regarding in-home medication management:

  • Learn about all medications
  • Have complete medical records at home
  • Follow medication directions
  • Use only one pharmacist
  • Be alert to side effects
  • Keep medications in original packaging
  • Develop a clear medication regimen
  • Work with a care team
  • Consider a brown bag checkup
  • Be prepared for emergencies

Learn About All Medications

A person taking medications, including one taking multiple medicines simultaneously, must learn as much as possible about each medication. This does mean reading the informational pamphlets provided by the pharmacist. It is also advisable that a family member be aware of medications an older individual is taking. This individual should also have comprehensive information about medications being taken. A family member should also be included in discussion with the doctor or pharmacist to answer any questions an older family member is taking at a particular time. In addition to the name, dosing information, and potential side effects, it is important to understand why each one has been prescribed to an older family member.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests the following questions regarding prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs to ensure optimal medication management.

  • Why has this medicine been prescribed?
  • How does this medication work in the body?
  • What are the most common side effects?
  • Are there any serious or rare side effects I should be aware of?
  • Will this medicine interact with others that my loved one is taking now?
  • When will this medicine begin to work?
  • What should I do if my loved one misses a dose? What if they accidentally take more than prescribed?
  • Should my loved one take this medicine with food or water?
  • Are there other drugs, vitamins, or supplements that my loved one should avoid while taking this medicine?
  • Are there activities that my loved one should avoid while taking this medicine?
  • Are there any foods that interact with this medication?
  • Is it safe to drink alcohol while on this medicine?
  • How long will my loved one have to take this medicine? Will we need a refill? How do I arrange that?
  • Do you have written information about this medicine I can take home with me?

Have Complete Medical Records at Home

As part of a comprehensive medication management process, all healthcare providers of an older family member must have a complete medical history on file. These medical records should also be at an older individual’s residence. It is advisable for another family member to have this information as well. These records should contain information that includes:

  • Surgeries
  • Immunizations
  • Test results
  • Allergies
  • Family health history

Records can be shared between health providers upon request. Thanks to digital technology, this has become all the more efficient in this day and age.

In addition, all physicians on an older family member’s care team should have a current and complete list of all medications taken. This list must be comprehensive and needs to include:

  • Prescribed medicines
  • OTC medicines
  • Vitamins
  • Supplements
  • Information about all medications named above needs to include:
  • Name of each drug
  • Dosing information
  • Reason for use
  • Prescribing doctor
  • Any cautions stated on the package

An ideal strategy for an older family member is to always carry a copy of this information with you in your wallet or purse. This information can prove invaluable in the event of a medical emergency.

The average older adult takes multiple prescriptions each day. In addition, many seniors take various OTC medications, such as antacids, laxatives, and pain relievers, without informing their physician. These drugs have the potential to interact with each other in the body. This can result in a particular medication or medications not working as intended. It can also cause adverse side effects. In some instances, side effects associated with medication interactions can prove to be life-threatening.

Follow Medication Directions

Taking medications as directed is imperative to ensure efficacy (effectiveness) as well as safety. Read all instructions carefully. Dispense only the recommended dosage at prescribed times. Complete the entire prescription if instructed to do so.

Some medications may not be taken in conjunction with specific foods, drinks, supplements, or other meds. Other medications may have to be taken with food or a whole glass of water to minimize side effects like stomach upset. These directives also need to be followed.

Sometimes medicines affect seniors differently than younger people. Let the doctor know if a medication doesn’t seem to be working or if it is causing side effects. Never discontinue a medication or change dosages or alter dosage timing without first consulting the prescribing physician. In addition, never share or give medications to another individual.

Use Only One Pharmacist

People don’t often think of this but having all prescriptions at the same pharmacy is advisable. This ensures the pharmacist will have access to all information about medications a senior is currently taking. Having one pharmacist also for better screening for potential drug interactions, medication duplications, and other med-related issues. You can also consult the pharmacist about minimizing side effects, reducing prescription drug costs, and finding appropriate over-the-counter medication alternatives if any might exist.

Be Alert to Side Effects

Any person taking medications needs to be tuned into the presence of side effects. There can be minimal and expected side effects associated with a medication. However, there can also be rarer and more significant side effects that have the potential to occur in some instances.

When more significant side effects occur, it is imperative that a senior’s healthcare provider be notified. This will help the doctor determine if adjustments need to be made to the senior’s medication regimen.

After a new drug has been added to a senior’s regimen, close attention must be paid regard to the occurrence of side effects. A good strategy is to keep a detailed record of side effects and symptoms. This can be helpful to a doctor who needs to troubleshoot medication-related issues. If a senior’s symptoms seem unusual or severe contact their doctor, pharmacist, or 911 immediately.

Keep Medications in Original Packaging

To avoid confusion, keep all medications in their original containers with their original labels, prescribing information, dosing instructions, and expiration dates. When a medication expires, discard the remnants and contact the prescribing physician for a refill if necessary.

There is one exception to this practice if a senior is using a daily med reminder system that involves the use of containers that contain all meds to be taken on a particular day or at a specific time. These containers can be useful in overall medication management.

Develop a Clear Medication Regimen

A notable percentage of seniors need assistance managing their medications. Developing a routine for taking medications in a specific way at specific times of the day will help prevent skipped doses and overdoses. It is the best way to keep an older individual as healthy as possible and out of harm’s way. If medication reminders are needed, use clear, simple language to help your loved one understand the kinds of medications that are being taken and why they are needed. In addition, offer clear instructions. For example: “Here’s the pill for your high blood pressure. Put it in your mouth and drink some water.” In some cases, it may be necessary to confirm that the medicine has been swallowed.

Caregivers who are helping seniors manage multiple medications may benefit from creating a medicine chart. This chart can prove helpful both to the senior and the caregiver.

Work With a Care Team

If you are assisting an older family member like your parent with medication management, make certain to work with your parent’s care team. Maintaining a connection with the care team ensures everyone is on the same page in regard to your older family member’s medicines and medical needs.

Consider a Brown Bag Checkup

As a safety measure, consider scheduling what might be called a “brown bag checkup” with your loved one’s prescribing doctor or pharmacist. Place all medications, vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter products that your older family member currently is taking in a bag. Bring them to the doctor or pharmacist to review.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

Finally, be fully prepared for emergencies. This includes:

  • Researching pharmacies and care providers in your area to ensure you’re prepared for an emergency should one arise
  • Write down the names and contact information for a nearby 24-hour pharmacy and local emergency care providers that are open late and on weekends
  • Keep the number of your local poison control center or emergency room handy as well
  • If a serious medication issue is suspected, such as an overdose, call poison control or 911