Caregivers’ Corner: Managing Medications

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson March 15, 2013 12:00

Joan Jackson

Is mom’s illness simply getting worse, or could her medications be making her sicker?

One of the challenges of being a caregiver is to help your mom, dad, husband or wife manage medications effectively.

As bodies get older they often become less efficient at processing medications. The liver and kidneys don’t metabolize drugs as effectively. With age, body fat increases and body water decreases, changing the way some medicines work or changing the amount needed. The central nervous system can no longer handle certain medications at all.

The prescription that was just right at age 50 may be too much at 80.

Studies show that most people take more medications as they age. Forty percent of people 65 or over use at least five different prescription drugs and 12 percent use 10 or more. This increases the odds of adverse interactions with other medications, alcohol or food, and makes mistakes more likely.

Adverse symptoms can include extreme fatigue, lethargy, confusion, hallucinations, paranoia, agitation, depression, bleeding, falls, memory impairment and more.

If symptoms are not recognized as drug-related, not only is your loved one living with unneeded discomfort, but a new medication may end up being prescribed to treat symptoms actually caused by another drug.

So what can you do to protect your loved one?

Review medications: Ask your pharmacist or doctor to review medications periodically – especially if you notice new or unexplained symptoms. Make an appointment and put all prescription containers into a bag, along with any over-the-counter medications (like Aspirin, Tylenol or antihistamines), supplements or vitamins that your loved one takes regularly.

Be prepared to provide the patient’s age, weight and height. Be honest about alcohol, deviations from recommended prescriptions, and non-prescribed drug use. This helps your pharmacist or doctor get a complete picture, give the best recommendations and adjust, change or eliminate medications if necessary.

Organize pills: Taking multiple medications at different times of the day can be complicated and increase the risk of making a mistake. Most drugstores sell plastic boxes that keep pills in order.

For someone taking multiple medications daily, a weekly box with 21 compartments –morning, noon and night for seven days – works the best.

Keep a list of medications, dosages and times that they should be taken and any special instructions. Remember to date the list before you stick a copy in your wallet and a copy on your refrigerator for emergencies. When the list changes, keep a copy of the old list in a binder, folder or drawer. It’s hard to remember what drug didn’t work three years ago.

Explore options: Ask your doctor if there are safe non-drug choices – such as diet, exercise or supplements – to treat a problem.

And most importantly, trust your instincts if you notice any changes in your loved one that just don’t seem right.

© 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson March 15, 2013 12:00
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