As a senior parent ages and his or her body starts to slow and break down, the need for prescription medicines will likely increase. Keeping track of multiple medicines and all that comes with that (dose amounts and times, side effects, contraindications, interactions, etc.) takes significant time and effort. The stakes are also high: improperly taking medications can have serious consequences for anyone’s health, but especially for a senior. To stay safe, read our recommendations below and know that it never hurts to enlist some help.
Keep a List of All Medications One of the most important ways to help a parent with med management is to keep a record of all the medications he or she takes. Tack this list to the fridge and make sure it includes:
- Dose time (organize the list from morning to evening)
- Whether it should be taken with food
As a further precaution, keep a more complete document that lists this information along with known side effects, contraindications, and why Grandma or Grandpa takes the medication. Compiling this list will take time, but it will lessen stress in the long-run.
Consult with Your Doctor and Pharmacist Bring your list of medications to your provider (you might bring along patient information leaflets to be safe) and ask him or her to review for potential hazards, such as a medication or dosage that’s inappropriate for your parent’s age, or dangerous interactions with other medications (or even herbal supplements). It never hurts to get a second opinion, so a pharmacist should look the list over, too.
Use a Pill Dispenser Organizing medicines in a pill dispenser lessens confusion and creates easy access. Choose a dispenser with large font and sturdy design—the last thing you want is for your parent to have to fumble with lids and spill pills across the floor. Even with a pill box, you may want to retain original bottles and leaflets somewhere safe for your records. There are also services that sort pills into individual, labelled packets according to the time of day pills are meant to be taken and ship them to your door each month.
Set Up a Pill Reminder Pill reminders help ensure a parent never misses or doubles a dose. They come in a variety of formats, such as telephone reminder services and specialized alarm clocks. There are also a slew of apps you can download to your parent’s smartphone if he or she has one (as well as your own for safe measure).
Store Medicines Properly Different medicines may require different storage environments, but generally they all fare best when kept in a cool and dry place. This rules out the bathroom medicine cabinet, where moisture and heat from the shower can affect drugs. Also make sure to store medicines away from children and pets.
Know What Medications Are Unsafe for the Elderly For various reasons, certain medicines and classes of medicines, such as benzodiazepines, are not recommended for seniors. To keep informed, you can refer to the American Geriatrics Society’s Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults. For 20 years, AGS has kept and updated the report, which draws from more than 2,000 research studies to list more than 30 medicines potentially unsuitable for the elderly.
Take Extra Precaution with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Seniors with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia or cognitive impairment should not be allowed to take their medication on their own. The danger of missing a dose, confusing pills, or even overdosing is too high. In these cases, an in-home [caregiver] or family member should oversee medication management. Also know that some medicines may create side effects that mimic cognitive impairment—another good reason to keep a list of medicines current.