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5 Tips for Managing Medications

Ready for some alarming statistics?

  • The average American between ages 65 and 69 takes 14 medications on a regular basis per year.
  • Between ages 80 and 84, that number goes to 18.
  • Adults over age 65 are most likely to take medications improperly—and it’s estimated that as many as 60 percent of people who take five or more medications a day make mistakes.

Now, these numbers include all adults, including those in good health. Some of those 14 prescriptions every year may be for seasonal allergies or, perhaps, pain medication taken after a tumble. But the AARP reports that nearly half of older adults with caregivers take between five and nine different prescriptions a day, and a huge source of stress for caregivers is managing those medications. When your loved one relies on medications to stay out of the hospital, compliance—taking the right medicine, in the right amount, at the right time—is a lot more serious than forgoing extra-strength ibuprofen as your bruises fade.

Overseeing and managing medications is one thing if you live nearby, or if one of your parents is healthy and can monitor the other’s medications. But what if your loved one has vision problems that make it difficult to read labels or differentiate pills, or if cognitive impairment and confusion make remembering which to take and when (or if a pill has been taken already)?

Jennifer Morales, a public health nurse with VNSNY Acute Care, offers these suggestions:

Start by keeping everyone’s medications in different places.

If your mom knows that her medications are in one cabinet and your dad’s are in another, she’s less likely to grab the wrong bottles by mistake.

Ask about blister packs or easy-to-use packaging.

All pharmacies can give any medications in blister packs rather than in bottles. “These are great for several reasons,” says Morales. “First, the seal in the back is fairly thin, and it’s a lot easier to pop the pill out of the seal than it is to unscrew the cap. This also means that if your parent leaves the caps off, or sets them back loosely, you don’t have to worry about the bottles getting knocked over or pills spilling. The blister packs are usually numbered from 1 to 30, so it’s easy for caregivers and patients to see if that day’s pill has been taken.”

Use different colored pillboxes to help remember.

“I have a patient who puts daytime medications in a bright yellow pillbox and uses a dark blue box for nighttime ones,” says Morales.

Set alarms.

Cellphones and some wristwatches have alarm settings, but if your parent isn’t tech savvy, use regular alarm clocks. Set them near the medications to be taken when that alarm goes off—or look for pillboxes that have built-in alarms.

Look into a service.

If your loved one’s medication regimen is incredibly complex or if memory issues are a concern, look into a service to help with managing medications. MedMinder sends caregivers alerts when a dosage is missed. Computerized medication dispensers can be programmed to dispense specific medications at the push of a button at preset times and also alert family if a medication isn’t taken on schedule.

Download our free guide for more information about medication safety

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5 Tips for Managing Medications

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