Helping older adults manage their medications can often improve treatment adherence and reduce the risk for drug-related adverse effects.
An estimated 85% of U.S. adults aged 60 years and older use one or more prescription medications, reports the CDC. Compared with their younger counterparts, older adults tend to have more difficulty managing their multiple medications due to pain, poor vision, and dementia.
Medication mismanagement can be dangerous in many cases. It may increase the risk of adverse effects, drug interactions, and overdose. Helping older adults manage their medications can help them stay safe and reduce their risk for related complications.
Read on for tips on how to help this population safely manage their medications and about how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center to learn more about its senior healthcare services.
Store Medications in One Convenient Location
Storing medications in multiple places around the house, such as in the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom makes it easy to lose track of doses and the medications themselves. Bottles can often get lost or misplaced to result in missed doses or expired medications.
Keep medications in one place for convenience, except for medications meant to be stored in the refrigerator. Generally, medications should be stored in a cool, dry place away from children and pets. If necessary, read all medications' labels to become familiar with how each should be properly stored.
Sort Medications at the Start of Every Week
Help older adults get into a routine with sorting out their medications for the week ahead. Obtain a pillbox or pill organizer that allows you to put each day’s medication into its compartment. Then, split or halve pills as needed, and put doses into each compartment of the pillbox. Sorting medications in this way before the week starts is a convenient way to manage doses and cut down on any confusion on busier days of the week.
Identify and Note Drug Interactions
Given the high number of older adults who use multiple medications, tracking drug interactions is important to prevent problems and adverse effects such as drug overdose and the drug's inefficacy when taken with certain foods. For instance, grapefruit juice can interact with corticosteroids, anti-anxiety drugs, and statins in ways that allow a higher amount of the drug to enter the bloodstream and increase the risk for liver and kidney failure. Using opioids and benzodiazepines at the same time can increase the risk for a fatal overdose.
If you identify any drug interactions involving the prescribed medications an older adult is using, urge them to contact their doctor immediately for further instruction or obtain a different medication type.
Review Potential Side Effects
Certain side effects of some medications can put older adults at risk for injury or worsened illness. For example, side effects such as dizziness can result in falls, while vomiting and diarrhea can increase dehydration risk. Review all potential side effects of all medications and closely monitor your older adult for any health changes that occur after using a new medication, changing their dose, or combining medications in new ways. Have your older adult contact their doctor right away if it seems as though side effects of medications exacerbate their existing health conditions or inducing new health problems.
Educate about the Dangers of Self-Prescribing
Many people who use prescription drugs practice self-prescribing, which uses medications outside of a doctor’s direction to relieve symptoms. Self-prescribing could mean doubling up on doses to reduce pain or taking doses more frequently with hopes of experiencing a faster recovery. However, self-prescribing is risky and can often lead to setbacks or worsening health. Educate your older adult about the dangers of self-prescribing (such as drug overdose) and about the importance of adhering to the instructions on the prescription label.
Make Sure They Understand the Directions
Poor eyesight and dementia are examples of health conditions that can make it difficult for older adults to read and understand prescription medication labels properly. This can often result in misunderstandings regarding taking the right dosage amounts and using medications properly. When your older adult gets a new medication, make sure they thoroughly understand how to use the medication, such as when to take it and whether or not to take it with food. Contact your older adult’s doctor if you have any questions about the directions on the prescription label.
Limit the Number of Doctors and Pharmacists They See
If you are the caregiver of an older adult, try to limit the number of doctors they see and pharmacies they visit. This can help reduce any miscommunication or oversights regarding their health care. Seeing multiple doctors and specialists from several different networks can sometimes create confusion surrounding your older adult’s treatment plan. They may also lead to multiple prescriptions for the same drug or to prescribe drugs that cause negative interactions. If possible, limit your older adult’s health care to doctors who work together in the same network and who can communicate and collaborate about your older adult’s treatment plan.
Stay on Top of Medication Refills
Please note when your older adult’s medication is due to run out, and refill their medication as far ahead of time as possible to prevent any gaps between doses. Many doctors can prescribe 90-day supplies through a mail-order pharmacy to make refills less frequent and more convenient. Some pharmacies also send email reminders or have automatic refill programs to lessen the burden of keeping track of medications. If these options are not available to you, use a calendar to track medication refills to make sure your older adult never runs out.
Take the Reins for Older Adults with Dementia or Alzheimer’s
Memory loss, confusion, and difficulty with numbers are common symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease that can make it near impossible for older adults with these conditions to take medications correctly on their own without help. If your older adult has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, don’t hesitate or feel uncomfortable about taking control of their medication regime and managing it for them. Cognitive impairment can often make it extremely difficult to remember when to take medications as directed. Managing medications for older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s can significantly impact treatment adherence and reduce their risk for complications such as overdose.
Where to Find Healthcare Services for Older Adults
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to many medical providers trained to assess, diagnose, and treat dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other health conditions that commonly affect older adults. We also have a family caregiver support network for those who care for their elderly loved ones. Visit our provider page to make an appointment with us today.