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Managing New Medications

Home Instead Senior CAREGiver helping a senior lady with her medications.
Medication mismanagement is one of the leading problems that can send your senior back to the hospital. Examine all current medicines to make sure they have not expired or are due for refill.

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When your senior loved one returns home from the hospital, she or he is likely to come home with several new medications. Making sure that these new medications are taken correctly and don't create any adverse effects with existing medications is vital to ensuring your loved one's recovery.

Medication mismanagement is one of the leading problems that can send your senior back to the hospital. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adverse drug events cause over 700,000 emergency department visits each year and nearly 120,000 of those patients are hospitalized for further treatment.

There are many ways you can help keep your senior on track with his or her medicines:

  1. Examine all current medicines to make sure they have not expired or are due for refill. Before discarding those that have expired, make a note of the medication type, the dosage, the prescribing physician and the pharmacy so you can follow-up to make sure it's not something your loved one still should be taking.
  2. Make sure to get refills if it's time. It's likely that before your senior loved one entered the hospital he or she provided a list of current prescriptions, over the counter medications and supplements he or she was taking. New medications are often prescribed with these current medications in mind so it's important to keep your loved one on track by making sure former medications are taken in addition to the new ones.
  3. Prepare a list of all medications (PDF 600k)—including the new ones. Again, write down the name of the medication, the dosage, the prescribing doctor, the directions, and the pharmacy. If it's not already being done, make sure to get all of your senior loved one's prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. By having all of your senior's records in one place, the pharmacist can watch out for potential drug interactions and advise your loved one to speak with his or her doctors before an adverse reaction takes place.
  4. Getting to the pharmacy might be difficult for your senior loved one during the first few days or weeks upon returning home. If possible, arrange for the pharmacy to deliver the medications. If that is not an option, you or another family caregiver may need to add pick-up and delivery duties to your schedule. Keep in mind that a professional in-home caregiver can also help out with medication pick-ups and reminders as needed.
  5. Ensure that your senior loved one takes his or her medication as directed. It's among the most important caregiving tasks you can do. Pay special attention to dosing directions including whether the medication should be taken with food or on an empty stomach, the methods to reduce side effects such as nausea, dry mouth, constipation, etc., and if it should be taken in the morning or at night.

Medications might also make your senior less hungry or make food taste funny so they may be less inclined to eat. If that's the case, work with them to help make sure they are getting proper nutrition and hydration. Conversely, if your senior is feeling better he or she might think they don't need certain medications anymore and then stop taking them. Some medications, such as antibiotics need to be taken as a full course, others such as pain medications may be able to be stopped or have a reduced dosage. Regardless, check with your senior's doctor before making any changes to medication dosage or frequency.

One way to make taking medicines less complicated for your senior is to organize them into a pill box. Many varieties of pill boxes are available including ones that break each day into several time sections. You could also create a large calendar that he or she can refer to throughout the day.

The last important medication management task is to watch for and take note of any reactions or side effects your senior has so they can be addressed at follow-up appointments. Some symptoms to monitor for include:

  • No bowel movement in three days,
  • New skin problems,
  • Change in balance, coordination or strength,
  • Change in mental status or behavior,
  • Ineffective pain management,
  • Nausea or vomiting,
  • Dizziness,
  • Diarrhea, and
  • Fever.

If you do notice any of these symptoms, it is vital that you contact your loved one's healthcare provider immediately to help prevent further, more serious complications from developing.

If all of this is a bit overwhelming you might also consider contracting with an outside caregiver to assist with medication monitoring. In the end, helping to prevent medication mismanagement will lead to a quicker recovery for your senior loved one.

Download the Returning Home guide.

Download the Canadian Edition of the Returning Home: Transitional Care Guide

Last revised: April 20, 2012

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