medical prescription

Managing Your Elderly Parent’s Medications

November 28, 2016

If you have an elderly parent, it’s likely they’re on some sort of prescription medication – whether because of chronic illness, bone fracture, depression, or any number of age-related issues. A staggering 83% of adults in America over the age of 65 are taking at least one medication, with as many as half of all seniors taking 5 or more medications at one time. Staying on top of that kind of regimen would be challenging for any of us, let alone those suffering from any level of cognitive impairment or medical side-effects (or both). A look at ER statistics gives a glimpse at the fallout, with roughly 15% of all visits this year due to seniors’ medical reactions or drug interactions.

Are you concerned about your parent’s ability to manage their medications? Here are some steps you can take to get on top of the situation and help prevent serious problems:

  1. Take Stock of All Medications.

Make a complete list of medications that Mom is taking, including the exact name of the medication; what it’s being prescribed for; the prescribing physician; the correct dose, and how/when it is to be administered; any special instructions (take with food, etc); and any potential side effects or contraindications. There are many tracking templates available online to help, including one from the AARP that’s available in both English and Spanish. Make sure this list lives with you, as well as in at least 2 locations in Mom’s house, and with any caregivers in her life.

  1. Touch Base with Mom’s Medical Team.

Because seniors are apt to be seeing multiple doctors, there’s always the potential for medications to be prescribed together without the proper coordination among practitioners. Make it a point to attend your parent’s next round of doctors’ appointments, and take that opportunity to thoroughly review her list of current medications. Ask each prescriber if they’re still necessary, if any adjustments need to be made, and if they see any contraindication issues in the regimen. Also, remember to mention any over-the-counter medications or supplements that Mom might be taking, to make sure there aren’t any issues there.

And don’t be shy about asking if there are ways to simplify her dosage schedule by perhaps switching medications; if Mom is having trouble taking something 4 times a day, for example, there may be an equally effective medication that only has to be taken twice a day.

Your mom’s pharmacist is also an excellent resource for tracking medications, talking through potential side effects, and underlining best practices regarding physician guidelines. Pharmacy staffers often have more time than the doctor does for reviewing aspects of care that might bear further explanation or discussion.

  1. Help Mom Get Organized at Home.

First, make sure she’s storing her medications properly, in a cool dry place where they are easily accessible, like a kitchen counter. Best not to have anything stored in a bathroom medicine cabinet, where moisture can reduce its effectiveness. And make sure medications are stored in the refrigerator only if directed on the bottle.

Set mom up with a pillbox that’s easy to open and maintain, or consider getting her a medical dispenser or alarm watch to help remind her of what to take, when. Amazon has a great selection of products to choose from, along with helpful customer reviews. And if she’s savvy with a smartphone, you might suggest she download a med-tracking app like Medhelper or Medisafe – or consider downloading one yourself if that would help with oversight.

Want more information? Head to the National Institutes of Health for some additional helpful guidelines on the topic.