Correct use of medication is a common concern in elder care. Many seniors receive prescriptions from multiple doctors, and often there is no one monitoring the big picture.
A 2013 study from the Mayo Clinic found that seven of ten Americans take at least one prescription. That number increases for the elderly. Older patients are often have long-term prescriptions, and many take multiple prescription medications, making accidental abuse, misuse, or mismanagement more likely.
The risk increases when older adults experience cognitive decline. But the potential for accidental mismanagement of medications exists even for seniors who have no memory issues.
Preventing Accidental Abuse
So what can you do to prevent problems with medications? Here are a few tips:
- Have a complete list of every medication you take, including over-the-counter medications and nutritional supplements. Keep it handy and bring it to every doctor appointment. Be sure to show it to the doctor.
- Do a “brown bag” test. Put all your medicine bottles in a brown bag and bring it to your local pharmacist. (Call ahead to be sure the pharmacy is not too busy.) Ask the pharmacist if the combination of medications may present any concerns.
- Ask your doctor why each prescription is needed. Whenever a new one is prescribed, remind your doctor of what else you are taking. Don’t assume the doctor will remember. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, like “Why do I need this?” and “What side effects may it cause?”
- Write down any new symptoms that arise after you start taking a new medication and report them to your doctor.
- Fill all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy. This keeps all your medications in one place and may prevent accidental over-medicating.
- Have a trusted family member or close friend accompany you to doctor appointments. This person can help you remember what to ask and take notes. You may want to have this person help with monitoring your prescriptions.
- Use a pill reminder box with compartments for each day of the week and the times (morning, noon, dinner, and bedtime) you take medications.
Enlist Trusted Help
Be sure that a trusted family member is aware of medications you are taking. Some seniors hesitate to ask for help, so family members and friends should not be afraid to offer help diplomatically if an older loved one has complicated medical needs or a declining memory. Every senior should have a trusted person to help keep track of all prescriptions, who prescribed them, dosages, potential side effects, and drug interactions to watch out for.
If a family member cannot help, you can hire a home care agency that is licensed to provide medication management. The agency will send a Registered Nurse to conduct an assessment and obtain a physician’s medical order for all your medications. If necessary, the nurse can fill a pill reminder box, or the agency can provide you with a certified medication tech who can help you take your medications in the right way.
Medication levels and needs differ for everyone, so it’s not easy to say how much medication is too much. But paying attention and keeping a written record of prescriptions and symptoms can help your medical professionals, your caregivers, and you monitor whether your medications are too much.