It’s not uncommon for older adults to take multiple medications to treat the various chronic health conditions that tend to develop as we age. Unfortunately, the more medications an individual takes, the greater their risk of medication errors, especially when factors such as memory loss or dementia enter the equation. At best, medication errors deprive people of the desired benefit and yield a less favorable outcome. At worst, they can lead to serious health consequences, possibly even death.
How can family caregivers prevent their elderly loved ones from making potentially dangerous medication errors? Here are several tips that can help:
Maintain a comprehensive medication list
To ensure you know which medications your senior loved one is taking, compile a comprehensive list with the name of each drug, the dosing instructions, and the name of the prescribing physician. Be sure to include any over-the-counter medications and/or supplements as well. Keep the list current, adding newly prescribed meds and deleting old ones no longer taken. Encourage your loved one to take the list to medical appointments and the pharmacy—or bring it yourself if you plan to accompany your senior family member to the appointment.
Get familiar with the medications
In addition to taking note of proper dosing, familiarize yourself with the purpose of each medication and any label directions, such as the necessity to take the drug with food or a certain amount of liquid or any foods/liquids that should not be consumed along with the medication.
Any old medications that are no longer prescribed for your loved one should be disposed of properly to eliminate the possibility of accidentally taking them.
Use the same pharmacy
To the extent possible, try to go to the same pharmacy each time you have to fill or refill a prescription. The more familiar your pharmacist is with your senior loved one’s health conditions and medication list, the greater the likelihood that he or she will be able to identify prescribing errors or potential adverse drug interactions before they become a problem.
Watch for evidence of medication mismanagement
Keep track of your senior loved one’s medication supply. Running out too quickly or too slowly could indicate he or she is either taking extra or skipping doses respectively. Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist any potential side effects associated with each medication, and keep an eye out for signs that your loved one may be experiencing them. Also, be sure to take advantage of any medication counseling offered through your pharmacy or available as part of your loved one’s Medicare plan.
A simple pill organizer with separate compartments for each day of the week (and sometimes different times of day) can be a useful tool for preventing medication errors. Just be aware that your senior loved one may need help setting up the organizer at the beginning of each week, especially if he or she has issues with manual dexterity and/or reduced vision. Also, more and more pharmacies are now offering the service of dispensing medications in blister or bubble packs to help eliminate guesswork when it comes to when and how much to take. Why not utilize this service if available? What’s more, you can take advantage of technology designed to help people stay on track with their medications, such as one of the various smartphone medicine-reminder apps.
Establish a routine and shed light on the subject
Like brushing your teeth, taking medications at the same time and place every day helps to establish a predictable routine and reduce the likelihood of accidentally skipping doses. It’s also advised to encourage senior loved ones to take medications only in a well-illuminated area where they can see exactly what they’re doing and double check the labels of each drug to make sure they’re not mixing them up. This is especially important when two or more drugs have very similar names or are very similar in size or color.