Medication Management Tips for Seniors and Their Caregivers

Medication imageby: James Fleming

If your aging parent is one of the 80 percent of older adults in the U.S. with a chronic illness, chances are you’re no stranger to a daily medication regimen. Ordering, refilling, organizing, and administering medicine is oftentimes one of the most important jobs a caregiver will do.

The truth is, however, upwards of 50 percent of people with chronic illnesses don’t always take their medications as prescribed by their doctor. A variety of factors contribute to this type of non-adherence including poor patient-doctor communication, medication costs, complicated medicine schedules, health illiteracy, multiple providers writing prescriptions, and similar-looking and similar-sounding drugs.

While the responsibility of medication adherence falls to both the patient and their doctor, there are a few things caregivers can do to help too:

Starting a New Medication?

For the sake of your loved one’s health, when it comes to starting a new medication, make sure to ask their doctor a handful of important questions including:

  • How do you pronounce this medicine’s name as well as its generic name?
  • What exactly does this medicine do and what is it designed to treat?
  • Are there any adverse side effects we can expect?
  • What should we do if we accidentally miss a dose?
  • Are there any drug interactions we should know about?

While diet and physical activity play critical roles in managing chronic conditions, medicine also has its place in keeping people healthy. It’s important to advocate on behalf of your older adult, however, to make sure that new medications won’t result in additional complications.

Organizing and Reminding

Use a pill organizer. One of the best ways to stay on top of a daily medicine schedule is to utilize pill organizers. Easy-to-use pill organizers let you sort medications both by day of the week as well as the time of day. Often color-coded and clearly labeled, pill organizers prevent an older adult from having to open multiple identical pill bottles each day and carefully figure out which pills to take. You can find a variety of fairly inexpensive pill organizers at your local drug store or online.

Similarly, you should also categorize and store other important medical necessities together like first aid items, medical devices (blood pressure monitor, thermometer, etc.) and orthopedic aids like back braces, carpal tunnel braces, etc.

Post the medicine schedule. Clearly printed medicine schedules are super helpful for doctor’s visits and in the event emergency medical personnel need to record what your loved one is taking if they go to the hospital. Printed medicine schedules can also assist you, the in-home caregiver, and serve as a type of checklist by which you can verify the medicine you are handing off to your loved one to take is correct. Medicine schedules should include the name of the drug (that’s printed on the label) as well as the dosage, the shape and color, and the time(s) of day at which it is taken.

Set reminders. Whether it’s a reminder on your smartphone, on your loved one’s alarm clock, on the TV, you name it, a loud and actionable reminder to take medicine is a must. Some smart pill bottles come with digital integrations that feature their own reminder systems too and there are also different mobile apps (like MediSafe and CareZone) available to help your older adult stay on track as well.

Tips for Creating a Backup Supply

Try as hard as you might, there is inevitably the occasional incidence of running out of your parent’s medicine and not being able to refill it in time for their next dose. While this can be scary, it also begs the question “how can you build up a backup supply for emergencies?”.

The first place to start is to find out how soon you can refill their normal prescription. For many insurance companies, including Medicare, you don’t have to wait a full 30 days to refill a monthly prescription. Sometimes you can do it as quickly as 25 or 27 days. If you refill your loved one’s prescription early for even just a few months, you’ll quickly build a small backup supply of medicine for emergencies.

It is also worth asking your loved one’s doctor if there is a way to either simplify the medicine schedule, i.e. reduce dosages from twice a day to once a day, or write any of the prescriptions for longer periods of time, i.e. three months vs. one month. Small modifications like this can make a huge difference when it comes to managing medicine schedules and reducing associated stress.