With many older adults taking multiple medications per day, there is an increased risk of drug interactions, side effects, overmedication, or medication mismanagement. How can you reduce the risks associated with taking multiple medications? Make sure you understand all of the medications and their instructions, know the possible concerns to watch for, and plan for safe storage for medications for seniors.
Understanding Medications and Dosages
Family caregivers can help older loved ones reduce the risk of medication issues by taking the time to understand all medications, dosages, and instructions. Prescription medications come with instructions for each patient as well as a listing of side effects and other important information. If you have any questions, talk with the pharmacist or physician. To best understand the medications prescribed for a loved one, consider the following:
- Medication names – Is the medication a brand name product or a generic? Does the version received match what the doctor prescribed? Knowing the medication names can help you avoid errors by grabbing the wrong container and can help you when it’s time to request a refill.
- Medication purpose – With older adults taking many medications, it’s important to understand what each medication is treating to be sure it’s something the individual currently needs.
- Instructions – Each prescription will have a label with instructions regarding how to take the medication and on what schedule. If anything is confusing, ask the pharmacist to help clarify doses or the administration schedule.
- Length of prescription – Some medications are taken for the short term, such as antibiotics, while others may be taken for the rest of the person’s life. If the older adult will be on the same medication(s) for a while, do they continue to follow the same instructions, or will there be changes over time?
Possible Concerns with Medications for Seniors
When helping an older loved who is taking multiple medications, know which concerns to watch for to help reduce the risk of overmedication and to know what to do in case of possible side effects, reactions, or accidental dosing errors. Some possible concerns include:
- Duplicate medications – Older adults are likely to be seeing multiple physicians, and it’s possible to receive overlapping medications for the same symptoms or treatments. Another risk for duplicating medications can come from using multiple pharmacies – online, in store, or mail order. To reduce the risk, have all of the senior’s medications filled at one pharmacy as much as possible. The pharmacist can alert you if there are redundant medications or potential for drug interactions across prescriptions.
- Symptoms to watch for – Each medication has a possible risk for side effects, allergic reactions, or interactions with other medications. It’s essential to understand these risks and to know which symptoms to watch for. If a loved one has mild side effects, the physician or pharmacist may recommend that medications be taken with food to help settle upset stomach, for example.
- Should anything be avoided? – Does the senior need to avoid any specific medications, foods, or activities while taking a new medication? Some medications can cause dizziness which can increase the risk of falls or make driving unsafe. Also, some foods, such as citrus fruits or alcohol, can interact with medications making them less effective, causing them to function improperly, or increasing side effects. The label and medication instructions will state if there are any restrictions, so be sure to ask the pharmacist if you have any questions.
- Missed or extra doses – The medication instructions should state what to do in the event of a missed dose or if a person has taken an extra dose accidentally. Missing or adding doses may lead to increased side effects or illness. Preparing for this scenario will help you know how to respond in case of an error.
Medication Management and Storage
Medication management is essential for helping older adults adhere to their medication schedule and to avoid the risk of overmedication. Some strategies for managing medications include:
- Medication storage – Follow the storage recommendations for each medication. Some medicines need to be stored in the refrigerator, while others need to remain in a cool, dry place. It’s best to keep medications away from warm locations like bathrooms or near the stove. Also make sure to keep medications safely away from any children in the home.
- Medication list – Keep a list of all medications the older adult is taking including prescriptions, over-the counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements. Record the dosing schedule and any special instructions to help you to administer the medications on time and to avoid errors.
- Tracking tools – There are many products available to help manage medications for older adults, such as:
- Pill organizers with different compartments for sorting pills by time of day. Some pill boxes even come with alarms to remind people to take their medications.
- Automatic pill dispensers can be programmed to dispense the proper dose of each medication at the correct times and may have alarms or reminders as well.
- Medication reminder apps are available for smartphones to remind seniors when to take their medications. Each medication, its dosing instructions, and schedule is entered into the app, and then the app can give reminders before a dose should be taken. Some apps can create a report of which medications have been taken regularly or missed to show to family caregivers or physicians.
Medication management is an important way to help older adults remain safe while living at home. It’s essential for individuals or family caregivers to ask questions about any medications or instructions that they don’t understand.
For additional support, a professional caregiver from Nightingale Homecare is always available to help older adults live safely and independently wherever they call home. We provide a wide variety of medical or non-medical home care services including medication reminders, medication monitoring, or specialty care programs for individuals managing chronic disease. Contact us online or by phone at (602) 814-0726 to learn more about our home health care in Scottsdale and the surrounding areas.