It seems that every year more older adults in America are being prescribed multiple drugs for their ailments. In fact, research suggests that 2 out of 5 seniors on Medicare are taking at least 5 different medicines per day. Additionally, “persons aged 65 years and older comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet account for more than one-third of total outpatient spending on prescription medications in the United States.” An increasing number of older adults are being required to manage multiple medications—and it’s trend that seems likely to persist.
But the more pills your loved one takes, the greater chance there is for mishaps and accidents to occur. A small error like taking the wrong pill at the wrong time can lead to serious consequences. Proper and safe medication management can go a long way in preventing most problems from happening in the first place. And caregivers and family members play a key role in helping aging loved ones manage their medication.
Caregiver Tips for Safe Medication Management
If you’re a part-time caregiver, you won’t always be there to ensure medication is taken appropriately, which is why it’s so important to make sure a clear system is in place for medication even when you’re away. With a few simple strategies, you can help your aging loved one set up a system to better manage their medication, both at home and beyond. Doing this will allow them to feel empowered with their medication instead of overwhelmed—and you’ll be able to breathe easier, too, knowing they’ve got things under control.
Organize your medications
First things first: figure out what pills need to be sorted, how they should be organized, and how often you’ll need to repeat this. It seems basic, but depending on your loved one’s medication, they might need to be separated into daily, weekly, or monthly containers—or even ones that separate into morning and evening. You’ll also want to determine if this is something they’ll do themselves, or if the pill organizing should happen while you’re there.
Sort pills smartly
Choose a pill container that’s big enough for your loved one to comfortably open, that has a large, readable font size. If any of your loved one’s pills need to be split in half, create a safe system for doing this. Older adults who suffer from memory problems, bad eyesight, or poor motor skills shouldn’t be responsible for cutting pills.
Get to know your pharmacist
Whenever possible, stick with one pharmacy when filling prescriptions. Having a consistent pharmacist reduces the potential for mistakes in medication, since they’ll be familiar with your loved one’s medical history, all their prescriptions, and possible drug-related allergies. Ask for the medication instructions to be printed out in large, readable font so your loved one is able to easily see it.
Invest in technology
Getting an automated medication dispenser might be just what you need to keep a schedule, and can solve a lot of potential problems. They come with many customizable features, including alarms and light notifications. Or maybe what would work better would be a mobile application, like IOA’s Senior Care Management App, that assists with organizing information related to your loved one’s meds. The app can be shared among family members and caregivers to keep everyone in the loop.
Have clear instructions
Even if your loved one has a medication management app with a schedule and alerts, you’ll want to create a simple to-do list that chronicles the timing, order, dosage, and special instructions about every prescription—just in case. And if your loved one isn’t technologically minded, have this list laminated, and be something that they must check off every day for tracking and taking medication. Implement daily rituals to ease the task of remembering everything, such as setting reminder alarms or taking pills at mealtime. Tailor your loved one’s rituals to their strengths: for tech savvy older adults, setting a phone alarm manually each day might work well; other older adults might prefer having their caregiver do it for them for the week.
Plan ahead for outings
Once you’ve mastered medication management at home, there’s no reason not to be prepared for outings. Put together a different container with pills for the exact length of your loved one’s trip—whether it’s an afternoon, full day, or week. Pack snacks if certain meds must be taken with food, and set an alarm on their phone as a reminder.
Whatever routine, system, and dispensing method you decide upon, it should be a strategy that works best for both you and your loved one. And if you’re looking for additional support, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. Care managers can assist with medication management, whether on an ongoing basis or simply from a consultation standpoint. Depending on how much help you need and what your family dynamics are, having outside help can sometimes prove invaluable. Ideally, creating an organized system for safe medication management can help both you and your aging loved one spend less time thinking about pills, and more time enjoying life.
If you’re seeking to learn more about how to better support an aging loved one with their medication management, Institute on Aging can help. Contact us today to learn more about our resources and programs.