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Medication Plan Should Balance Independence and Safety

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With the potential for dangerous effects of medication mismanagement, it can be easy to want to micromanage a loved one’s medication regimen. But consider how the senior may feel if he considers himself perfectly capable of managing things on his own.

It’s important to balance the senior’s need for independence and safety, according to Dr. Jane Potter, geriatrician and director of the Home Instead Center for Successful Aging at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Dr. Potter remembered a patient who had been a medical professional herself. She felt that she could easily manage her own medications, but it was becoming apparent to the woman’s family and doctors that she was not able to do so. “I’m all for autonomy and respect, but you have to look at the amount of danger in a situation,” she noted.

“If you’re caring for a senior, you might have to coax that person into a better system. Say, ‘I care. I want you to continue to get better. I know you’re a smart person, but the potential for mistakes really scares me. Please do this for me.’”

According to research compiled for Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses, approximately 30 percent of hospital admissions of older adults are drug-related, with more than 11 percent attributed to medication non-adherence (not taking medicines properly) and 10 to 17 percent related to adverse drug reactions.

According to this research, older adults discharged from the hospital on more than five drugs are more likely to visit the emergency department and be re-hospitalized during the first six months after discharge.

If you’re a senior, you might be thinking you’re adequately managing your medications but, in reality, you could be putting yourself in jeopardy.

If you’re a family caregiver, working together with your older loved one provides an opportunity to keep your senior feeling empowered as well as safe with his or her choices.

Make sure you and an older adult know the answers to these helpful questions from the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP):

  • What is the name of this medication and why do I need it?
  • What is this medication supposed to do?
  • What is the correct dosage?
  • How does this drug interact with other medications I am taking?
  • How do I take it—with or without food?
  • When do I take it—a.m. or p.m.?
  • What are the benefits and risks of the medication?
  • What are the side effects of the medicine, and what do I do if they occur?
  • What food, drinks, other medicines or activities should I avoid while taking the medicine?
  • How often must the doctor check the medicine’s effects? For example, checking your blood pressure if you are taking a medicine to lower it, or having a laboratory test done to make sure the levels of medicine in your blood are not too high or too low.
  • Do I need a refill and how do I get one?
  • Is there written information I can take home about the medication? (Most pharmacies have information sheets on your prescription medicines.)

Review medications and practices of administering medications together with your senior and medical provider. Check out other ways a family caregiver can help.

Last revised: January 21, 2016

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