Seniors are often taking multiple medications for a variety of medical conditions. The more medications a senior is taking, the greater the risk that a missed dose, and overdose or a negative drug interaction between medications can result in accidental poisoning or have other dangerous consequences.
In addition to poisoning and other potential lethal consequences, failure to take medications as prescribed can also result in worsening of medical conditions and can fail to prevent others from developing. An estimated third to half of all patients in the United States do not take their medications as prescribed. Failing to properly adhere to a medication regimen can increase the risk of hospitalization, resulting additional costs to both the individual and the health care system.
There are several steps families can take to help prevent their senior loved ones from experiencing the serious consequences of poor medication management:
- Keep a running list of all the senior’s medications, dosage and dosing instructions. This includes prescriptions, over the counter medications, and vitamins or other supplements. A copy of this list should be provided to each health care provider the senior visits. Keeping track of other information – like allergies, negative reactions to drugs or health conditions – can also be helpful. There are electronic medication tracking programs that can be used to keep and coordinate this information.
- Have a family member or home care assistant accompany the senior to all doctor’s appointments so that the specific dosage instructions are received and understood by a second person.
- If a senior is having trouble taking a particular medication, or seems to be avoiding it, talk to the senior about the reasons why. Whether it’s due to side effects, too many daily doses, difficulty swallowing or inability to pay for the medication, having the senior or the accompanying family member explain these issues to the health care provider may allow adjustments to be made. The doctor many be able to prescribe another medication with different side effects or dosing, a generic with a lower cost, or a liquid or chewable form of the medication.
- In order to avoid serious consequences, good communication between the senior, family members, home care professionals and all health care providers involved in the senior’s care is critically important. Even in hospitals, serious medication errors are usually the result of poor communication. At home where family caregivers are less educated about possible drug interactions and side effects, it is even more important to have good communication.
- If a family member is not able to be involved and there are concerns about the senior taking medications properly, consider hiring a home care assistant to provide medication reminders. Although a home care assistant is not authorized to actually administer medications, he or she can offer assistance with reading labels and reminders that it is time to take a medication. In addition, a home care assistant can communicate with family members regarding any difficulties the senior is having in taking their medications.
By having a family member or home care assistant involved in medication management, as well as working with health care providers to ensure the best possible medications are prescribed and avoid negative drug interactions, seniors can minimize the risk of serious injury, manage their medical conditions and remain living in their own home for as long as possible.