Medication Management for Seniors: How to Help Your Loved One Keep Track of Their Pills

When it comes to helping your elderly loved one, perhaps nothing is more confusing than making sure they take their prescriptions properly. With so many new drugs out there, bottles that look alike, and brands names that sound identical, it’s no wonder this once-simple task is so frustrating. Complicating matters are additional restrictions on times to take them, as well as which foods, drinks, and other prescriptions they may conflict with. And without the right medication management, it’s no exaggeration to say your senior is at risk for serious illness – or worse.

What exactly is medication management for seniors?

Fortunately, the concept of medication management is actually quite simple: it’s exactly what it sounds like. It means helping the patient take the right medications at the right times, in the right dosages, and under the right circumstances. It includes following all instructions related to the medications, and knowing when and how they might conflict with others. It can also mean monitoring the effects of the prescriptions on the senior to make sure their health is optimized, while any negative side effects are minimized.

Why is medication management important?

You probably already know how important it is to get your loved one the right prescriptions, so the necessity of mediation management may seem obvious. However, it is equally important to see that all the criteria above (correct time, dosage, careful monitoring, etc.) are also met. This is because without a watchful eye, it’s almost too easy for your loved one to suffer severe, permanent harm from the improper use of medication.
For instance, a little too much blood thinner can lead to excessive bleeding. Mixing certain drugs with certain foods (for example, grapefruit with thyroid medication) can render the drug ineffective. In the worst cases, poor medication management can even lead to the senior’s untimely death.

Should seniors handle their own prescriptions?

Ironically, sometimes the least ideal candidate for handling medications is the senior themselves. This isn’t because they’re not cognitively capable of doing so – many are. It just shows how overwhelming drug management truly is. Seniors can run into issues dealing with medication because of poor eyesight, for instance, when they are unable to read prescription bottles. Forgetfulness – either from illness like Alzheimer’s or just being overwhelmed – can interfere as well. Finally, conditions such as arthritis or other joint problems can make opening and closing bottles difficult for seniors. Many companies are working to address the challenges seniors face and new advances are being made in pill technology. But it never hurts to have a second set of hands (and eyes!) to help keep track of prescriptions.

Who should be responsible for your senior’s medication management?

You can always take on your senior’s medication management yourself, but you may still run into problems. If you’re not a healthcare professional, the situation may be just as confusing and frustrating to you as it is to your senior. Also, your senior’s prescription needs will very likely change over time, and it’s important to have a professional who knows how and when that is happening.
That’s why it’s often a good idea to hire someone to take care of this onerous chore for you. A high-quality home health care agency will have visiting nurses on staff that are highly trained in this area. And don’t forget, if such professionals are handling your senior’s prescriptions, they should be an RN (Registered Nurse), LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), or other certified individual. Don’t settle for someone with a lower level of licensure than necessary. For one thing, it can be dangerous and — depending on the laws in your state – it may also be illegal.

Get the right medication management for your senior

At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your senior (if they are able to make such decisions) to determine how to best handle all the prescriptions they must take. But if it’s set-up correctly, the right medication management system should help the patient remain healthy for as long as their conditions permit.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

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Three and a half years ago, Maggie Fang started her journey as an Assessment Specialist in the Support at Home Program at IOA. Her excellent people skills enabled her to manage a caseload of older adults and individuals with disabilities, helping them receive homecare to age in place. Maggie was selected to pioneer the Temporary Respite Caregiver Support program, and we are delighted to have such a skilled and dedicated individual leading our newest program at IOA. Thank you, Maggie, for your exceptional work! 

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Patty has dedicated her career and volunteer efforts to support older adults and adults with disabilities in San Francisco. As the Resident Services Coordinator for Institute on Aging's Support in Independent Living program, Patty wears many hats to ensure that the 120+ residents of Martin Luther Towers Senior Housing can age in place comfortably. Her talent for connecting individuals with resources has enabled her to go above and beyond to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for all. Patty's commitment to her work has been unwavering, and we are grateful to have her on our team at IOA. 

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