In this day and age of modern medicine, it is uncommon to encounter senior citizens who aren’t taking daily medications. In fact, nearly half of senior citizens take 5 or more different medications regularly. Unfortunately, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 55% of seniors do not take their medication as directed. This can have dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences. Here are some of the common issues that impact medication management and how to address them.
Hearing Difficulties / Lack of clear Instruction: I don’t know about you, but when I go to the doctor it sometimes feels as if they are speaking a foreign language. I typically bring a notepad and take notes so that I can refer back to them when I get home. A major obstacle to proper medication management in the elderly is failure to understand the instructions. This can occur for several reasons. Receiving a lot of information at once can be overwhelming. If your loved one is hard of hearing, they may be embarrassed to ask the doctor or pharmacist to repeat the instructions. This can be remedied by asking for written instructions and reminding your loved one to wear their hearing aids if hearing loss is a factor. It is also a great idea to have someone attend the appointment with your loved one. A second set of ears can make all the difference!
Swallowing Difficulties: It is not uncommon for seniors to experience difficulty with swallowing due to health conditions. When faced with large pills, some take matters into their own hands. We have heard stories of seniors crushing their pills and mixing with water. This is dangerous and can interfere with the medication working properly. Long acting medications may work all at once, causing overdose. Many medications are available in a liquid for. Be sure to mention this concern to your doctor.
Vision Problems: Many elders struggle with the small print on prescription labels and sometimes are unable to distinguish between the names. Using a medication organizer can really help in this area.Investing in a little time to properly dispense pills into an organizer can save you a trip to the Emergency Room! If you are unable to visit your loved one to fill the weekly organizer, there are services that will do so for a fee.
Child Proof Bottles: We have all struggled at one time or another to open a “child proof” prescription bottle. For those with arthritis or general weakness, this can be a daunting and even impossible task. A simple solution is to use a pill organizer. You can dispense medication for your loved one in an easy to open container.
Limited Budget: One of the common obstacles to taking medication as prescribed is cost. Seniors on fixed income are often unable to afford the hefty price tags of their meds. We have heard of people cutting pills in half to stretch them longer or even going without. If this is an issue for your loved one, ask the doctor if there is a generic available. You can also go online to Benefits Checkup to see if your loved one is eligible for any assistance. Some pharmaceutical companies offer discounts. You can contact them directly to inquire about this.
Polypharmacy: The definition of polypharmacy is a single patient using multiple medications simultaneously to treat one or more conditions. It is imperative that your doctor is aware of all prescriptions that you are taking as well as any over the counter medications and natural remedies. The risk of side effects increases each time a new medication is added to the mix. Toxic reactions can occur even at very low doses. It is a good idea to schedule a time to meet with your pharmacist to review all medication, even those from different pharmacies as well as over the counter medications. Be sure to
bring all of the bottles with you.
Side Effects: Some people are reluctant to take medications that make them drowsy. Others find that they experience side effects such as dizziness, nausea, weight gain, insomnia…. the list goes on and on! If side effects are an issue, talk to the doctor. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as taking the medication at a different time of day. In other situations, perhaps there is a substitute medication that might be a better fit. Maybe the dosage needs adjusting. Chances are that the doctor had a good reason for writing the prescription so it important to troubleshoot rather than just stop taking it. Unfortunately, side effects from medications can be mistaken for normal aches and pains of aging. It is important to speak up. Small changes can make a big difference!
Memory Loss: Those suffering from dementia are at high risk of medication mismanagement. They may skip doses of their medications because they simply do not remember to take them. They may overdose by taking their medication more than once, because they do not remember taking it earlier. This can be extremely dangerous! This is a serious red flag that your loved one needs an in-home caregiver, reminders and monitoring, or perhaps a supportive assisted living environment where medication can be managed.
The bottom line is that in order for medications to work properly, they must be taken as directed. There is not a “one size fits all” solution to this issue. It is important to keep the lines of communication open with your loved one and medical professionals. At Graham and Graham Eldercare Consultants, we are here to help you with solutions and resources. Our compassionate and knowledgeable elder care consultants are just a phone call away!
Author: Stacy Gibson