Getting your elderly loved one to remember to take their various prescriptions can be an exercise in patience, not to mention a lesson in pharmacology. Life expectancy is much longer than it used to be, partly due to the medicines and supplements necessary to keep the body running smoothly as it matures.
As age increases, so too the amount and variety of ailments that can and should be treated with the help of modern medicine. Not to mention the herbal supplements available. With each prescription, there are a set of specific rules as to when and how to administer them. No matter what the abilities or cognitive skills, such a laundry list of times, dates, names, and dosages may just seem like more trouble that they are worth. It falls to YOU, the caregiver, to make sure these measures are taken, and done properly.
Your first step may be just to tell Mom or Dad how important each medicine is. What does this one do? This one says take with food. What will happen if I don’t? Explaining that taking a medicine that specifies to be taken with food on an empty stomach may result in painful consequences like nausea or heartburn may inspire them to eat that piece of toast you suggested. The medication is also less likely to be as effective when not taken as directed. What about this pill bottle that says to only take this medicine at night or in the morning? Can’t I just take it when I remember? It may help to let them know that these medicines may either make them drowsy or contain stimulants that inhibit sleep, so they should keep to the recommended time of day to not disrupt their sleep schedule. They may still not consider skipping a dose or 2 of a medication can be a big deal. For example, skipping several doses of many medications for a heart condition could result in an actual heart attack. Knowing this, they may take your concerns more seriously.
Of course, to do this, you may have to play detective, even horning in on your parent’s doctor’s appointments so you can ask questions and rifling through their side tables and medicine cabinets to see what, exactly, they are taking. (You will want to consider getting a healthcare proxy so your parents doctors can legally speak with you.) That means determining not just prescription drugs, but also over-the-counter products, vitamins and herbal supplements, says Joan Baird, director of pharmacy practice for the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists. The complete list should include both daily drugs and occasional remedies such as sleep or cold medicines. This will help you, your parent, and their doctor to make sure that all the substances being taken won’t work against each other or harm the person taking them. Read labels. Even cold or allergy medicine might interact with something your charge is taking for a far more serious condition. Make sure you consult with your parent’s pharmacist and geriatrician about these drug regimens to keep them streamlined and as simple as possible. This way you can also eliminate anything that is unnecessary or redundant. The simpler the regimen, the easier it will be to remember.
Keeping things simple may just be as easy as finding the right pill box. The weekly pillboxes with giant numbers and compartments for day and night dosages can be invaluable tools to keep meds straight. Plus, it can be a ritual for caregiver and loved one to get together once a week to talk about the medication, the side effects, what is working and what is not, while filling up the pill box for the week.
According to an article in US News and World Report, How to Help Aging Parents Manage Medications, this is another way to ensure that your parent or loved one has a continued role in the decision-making process and therefore maintain some control.
No matter how simple you make it, trying to suck down 20 pills a day (or at a time) can be a daunting proposition for a senior who may not be able to swallow like they used to. Being in contact with doctors, finding out if there are different ways to take the pills (such as liquid or crushed into something yummy) may make the whole endeavor more palatable.
The daunting task ensuring your senior loved one is keeps to the appropriate medicinal regimen can be made so much easier with the help of competent, licensed professionals that can visit the home and enforce all these protocols that you and your loved one(s) have come up with to maintain health, happiness, and independence.