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Managing Elders' Medications

Have you ever had trouble remembering to take an antibiotic four times a day? Have you ever missed a few doses?  It happens to all of us.  Now place yourself in the shoes of an elderly parent. They may be regularly taking fifteen medications, but the doses and times change with each physician appointment. There are also old bottles at home with the same medications in them, but they may be a different color and/or dose.   Add to that a memory that is not as good as it used to be.  Sound familiar?

We see this in home health care every day.

As the amount of medications our elders take has increased, so has the amount of newer, more effective treatments for disease.  The average lifespan of Americans has increased from 52 years to 76 years. Twenty-four years have been added to the lifespan of every male, and medications play a significant role in this. Thanks to modern medicine, today's elderly can manage chronic diseases that they would have otherwise succumbed to in the past. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the amount of medications our elders take is ever increasing.

So before you declare in frustration, “My mom is on too many medications!” look very closely at what she is taking and why. There may be medications that are no longer needed, but first investigate what each and every medication is for.  Of course, the prescribing physician is the best source for obtaining information about the reason for each medication.  Find out what the medications are being taken for.  Pharmacists and nurses can also be wonderful resources with whom to have that conversation. 

If you discover that each medication is needed, then look for the most efficient way to keep track of them. Some options to consider are electronic pill-dispensing machines, pill box planners, and simple egg cartons.  For someone with many medications I recommend a pill box planner, like the one pictured here.

There are large compartments, each opening separately.  The lid also comes off for easy filling.  What is most helpful about pill boxes is that you can see if you took a dose or not.  The act of taking medication is so automatic and unremarkable that it is quite difficult to remember the specific action even 20 minutes later.

For patients with “polypharmacy” (the use of four or more medications), physicians often order a home care nurse after a hospitalization or a material change. It is wise to accept this support as the medications are a key component to keeping your parent’s condition stable.  For individuals that simply do not take their medications because they cannot remember or are too confused to handle the task, another individual will need to be enlisted.


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