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Tips to Help Avoid Medication Mistakes

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Ninety-one-year-old Fred lives in an independent retirement community and is usually skilled at managing all of his many medications. After a bout with congestive heart failure, he was prescribed a diuretic to help eliminate fluid from his system. It worked and he got better. So he quit taking the medication. It was one less pill he had to remember to take. He viewed the prescription as a temporary medication when the doctor actually intended for him to keep taking the prescription. Soon the fluid began to build up again and Fred was back in the hospital.

Nearly 20 percent of seniors who are taking five or more prescription medications surveyed by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead® network, reported challenges in managing their medication regimen including understanding directions for taking the medications.

Such medication management uncertainty could put seniors at higher risk for a medical issue or emergency due to incorrect dosage or adverse medication interactions. And that can lead to potentially devastating consequences. Each year, there are nearly 100,000 emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug events in U.S. adults aged 65 years or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Following, from Home Instead and Dr. Jane Potter, geriatrician and director of the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, are suggested ways to help minimize the risk of medication mistakes.

Get a pill organization system or service

Approximately 50 percent of patients do not take their prescriptions as prescribed, according to the 2011 study, “Medication Adherence: WHO Cares?”. That’s why a pill organizer can be such an important tool.

Check out Simple Meds℠ to learn more about the benefits of an organized system for medication management. Simple Meds pharmacists dispense prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and vitamins in simple, multi-dose packets. The medications will be sorted and conveniently organized into single serving packets, labeled with the date and time they should be taken as prescribed by the senior’s doctor.

Make one doctor the gatekeeper to manage medications

It’s typical for an older adult to have multiple doctors, which is potentially dangerous. Dr. Potter suggests that your senior designate a primary doctor as the gatekeeper. Most people assume that doctors talk to one another, but you can’t assume that’s the case. They may not be aware of everyone involved in your older adult’s care. It’s best to keep a list of all providers and who is managing what, and update the list at least annually or whenever a change in medications is made.

“Bring into doctor appointments the actual medication bottles along with bottles of over the counter drugs your senior is taking so the doctor can cross check those each time,” Dr. Potter recommends. Medication tracker worksheets, where you can help your loved one record all the necessary information, can help as well.

Know why your loved one is taking the medication

What specific condition(s) or symptom(s) was the medication prescribed to help alleviate? Make sure your senior can read and understand the medication’s instructions. And verify with the pharmacist that the medication being given is what the doctor prescribed. Double check with the pharmacist to make sure the medication won’t interact with any other prescriptions being administered. Make sure you and your senior are aware of all potential side effects.

Call the doctor about any changes in how your senior is thinking, feeling or looking

Many people have a sense when they feel different, especially after a change in their medication. But your senior could also develop a reaction after years on the same medication. Be sure to bring these issues to the attention of a health care provider.

Keep regularly scheduled appointments and an open dialogue with your loved one’s health care provider

Encourage your senior loved one to keep a regularly scheduled appointments and maintain open communication with the doctor to help avert medication problems. Consider writing down questions in advance so you and your loved one remember everything you intended to discuss during an appointment.

If your senior is having trouble paying for medications, talk with the doctor

One of the biggest deterrents to medication adherence is cost. If an older adult is having trouble paying for a medication, discuss this with the doctor and pharmacist. Generic options can be cheaper and some pharmaceutical companies offer discounts.

Tell your senior loved one’s health care provider if you suspect he/she is depressed

Depression might make sticking to a medication regimen more difficult. Furthermore, some medications can contribute to depression. Be sure to let your doctor know if your senior loved one seems depressed.

Discuss any problems an older adult may have in taking a medication, such as the inability to swallow or difficulty opening a pill bottle

Solutions exist for some medication challenges. For instance, a liquid can be prescribed as an alternative to pills for some medicines. What’s more, pharmacists are required to provide easy-open bottles that can help individuals with arthritis. Discuss these options with your senior’s pharmacist.

Tell a health care provider if you suspect a loved one is forgetting to take a medication

It’s easy to become confused about the medications that have been prescribed, when they should be taken and how often. Confer with your senior’s health care provider about the appropriate level of medication assistance for your loved one.

Consider a caregiver

Help a senior assess the risk of medication mismanagement or side effects by going to the Let’s Talk About Rx℠ Solutions Guide. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to manage medications—or you’re a family caregiver worried about an older adult’s ability to manage medications—consider hiring a caregiver companion. Contact your local Home Instead office to learn more.

Last revised: January 21, 2016

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. April 3, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Posted by Patricia M

    A Home Instead caregiver will monitor meds while with a client, but for meds that should be taken on other days or times, I'm finding the MedMinder pillbox to be very useful. It's electronic, and texts me when meds aren't taken as scheduled. Googling "pill dispenser with notification" also provides other options.


  2. March 15, 2016 at 10:29 am | Posted by Richard Apple

    Excellent article. However, an essential point was overlooked. It is imperative that the primary doctor be someone who understands the risks of medications for seniors and has a clear approach that less is better. Most physicians just add a new medication to the mix without consideration of the interactive effects. Most physicians do not have a philosophy that if they are going to add a medication, they need to examine the other medications to determine what can be stopped. When I took my uncle to a doctor with this philosophy he thinned his medication regime from 7 to 2 medications. Hospital and rehab had been the culprits along with his former primary physician. If such a doctor cannot be found then it is essential that someone in the person's support group be designated as the medication/medical care advocate. Even if the person is otherwise competent dealing with physicians and medications should never be left to one person in isolation.


  3. March 4, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Posted by Patricia M

    Regarding your advice: "If ... you’re a family caregiver worried about an older adult’s ability to manage medications—consider hiring a caregiver companion. Contact your local Home Instead office to learn more.": What exactly would be the Home Instead caregiver's role in medication management? Thanks.


    • March 7, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Posted by Home Instead

      Hi, Patricia, Typically the caregiver's role in medication management is in partnership with the family and focuses on helping to monitor that the senior is taking medications correctly (on schedule, with or without food, etc.). But each Home Instead office is independently owned and operated, so the specifics of their services can vary from location to location. For complete information, please call your local office. The'll be happy to explain the role their caregivers play in medication management. Thanks.


  4. March 3, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Posted by Violet Adams

    Both my husband and I are n several medications daily and would like to be kept informed of ways to protect ourselves.


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