Tips for Taking Care of Prescriptions for Elderly

Pills that are different colors can be helpful in organizing medications.

Pills that are different colors can be helpful in organizing medications.

Are you helping to take care of an elderly person? Many older people must take several different prescription and nonprescription drugs every day. Because these drugs often are taken during different times of the day, it can become easy for an elderly person (or even a stressed younger person) to become confused about which medication to take at what time.

This confusion can create a situation where an individual may skip a dose or overdose on a particular drug. The following tips can help alleviate some of these issues and more, and can help your loved one manage his or her medications as easily as possible.

  1. Make a list of all medications, including over-the-counter drugs, that the person is taking and keep it up to date. This list is useful both for the patient and for that patient’s doctor.
  2. Keep a medication schedule in the form of a calendar and check off each dose as it is taken.
  3. If the person has trouble remembering to take medications, try associating doses with specific times of day, such as breakfast, lunch and dinner, or waking up or before going to bed.
  4. Use a divided container to prepare a person’s doses for an upcoming week. Containers designed for this purpose are inexpensive (often free) and found at local drugstores.
  5. Be sure that the person takes his or her medications as prescribed. For instance, some medications must be taken between meals, and others must be taken with food or before eating. See #3 to help with association for these medications.
  6. If the patient has problems digesting certain drugs, ask the doctor or pharmacist if other forms are available. In other words, a pill may be hard to swallow, but that pill may be available in liquid, too.
  7. Use containers with easy-open lids rather than child-resistant lids to ease opening the bottle for someone who might suffer from arthritis. These easy-open lids are perfectly appropriate when children no longer reside in the house.
  8. Never transfer drugs from one container to another unless that second container has been labeled appropriately.
  9. When you pick up medicine from the pharmacy, read the label to make sure you understand the dosage required and when that medicine should be taken. If you have questions, it’s easier to ask when you receive the medication than to call later.
  10. Avoid keeping medicines on a bedside table. More than one overdose has been attributed to patients taking drugs too often when he or she is not fully awake. Additionally, the possibility of taking the wrong medication increases in this situation.
  11. Keep medications up to date. If a medication is to be renewed, be sure to let the doctor or pharmacist know about a week before the expiration on the current bottle. This way, you can rest assured that the medication can be continued without a lapse due to holidays, running out at night, etc.
  12. Dispose of all unused and expired prescriptions properly. Unfortunately, disposing of pills and medicines down the drain can increase the chances that local water supplies become contaminated. Keep the medications in the bottles with lids on and dispose of the bottles in the trash. This latter solution is not the best one, but until these bottles and their medications can be disposed of in an environmentally-safe way, people have little choice in how to eliminate the medicines from the household.
  13. Make sure that all pills are accounted for and that the patient is 1) not taking medications that belong to others, and 2) that the patient is not giving away medications.

One way to help cut down on the number of prescriptions that a person might be taking is to ask the doctor or pharmacist if the medication can be combined. For instance, why take a cough medicine and a decongestant when both can be combined and purchased in one package? This type of packaging may save money as well as time, space and confusion.

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