Don’t Rely on Luck When it Comes to Medication Safety

March 17, 2011

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Fairfax! On this day of the leprechaun, we may feel lucky, but know we can’t depend on luck to keep our parents from making mistakes when it comes to their medication. They’re just too important to rely on the luck of the Irish.

Most older people take multiple pills each day – from prescription medications to vitamins and other supplements. Keeping track of so many different medications might be challenging for anyone, but for individuals suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s the situation is particularly difficult and, if not monitored carefully, can lead to serious problems. So, what can you do to ensure that your loved one is taking the correct medications at the correct times? Here are a few helpful hints.

  • Create a chart to track medications. On the chart, include the name of each medication, the way in which it must be administered, the proper dosage, the frequency with which it must be taken, any relevant time limit on the prescription, and the reason for taking the medication. Make sure that you, your elderly family member, and your family member’s doctor and pharmacist each have a copy.
  • Check expiration dates on medications. Make sure that all of the medications that your loved one is taking are current, and dispose of medications that are out of date. Be sure to follow proper medication disposal procedures; simply flushing pills down the toilet, for instance, can contaminate drinking water. Instead, take the expired medications to your pharmacist.
  • Read labels carefully. Many medications need to be stored at specific temperatures, or can interact negatively with other types of medication.
  • Purchase a pill organizer for your loved one’s use. Most pill organizers are quite inexpensive, and can be invaluable in helping elderly ones to make sure that they do not overdose on medications.
  • If your loved one has a tendency to forget to take medications, consider using a medication reminder device or a call reminder service to help him or her remember to take medications.

Staying in the Loop

When an elderly family member receives a new prescription, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor for particulars specifics about the medication’s effects. Your older family member may not remember all of the information he or she was given, or may not pay much attention to specific details about new medications. Therefore, it is important to get detailed information directly from the doctor if at all possible. Find out what medication has been prescribed, its use, and the proper dosage. Be sure to ask how soon it will take effect, and what signs to look for in order to know if it’s working properly. Discuss the medications that your loved is already taking, and find out if mixing any of the drugs can have ill effects. Rather than trying to rely on your own memory to remember what the doctor says, write down the information you are given. That way, you and your loved one can stay informed.

Spotting Medication Errors

What if you cannot always be present to monitor the administration your family member’s medication? Look for the following signs to spot potential medication errors:

  • Sudden changes in habits, personality, appearance, or speech
  • Unusual complaints about tiredness, stress, or anxiety
  • Expressions of confusion about medication routines
  • Bruises or other signs of falls

While tracking all of an elderly person’s medications can be difficult, there is much that can be done to prevent errors. However, remember that you are only one person, and may not be able to be present 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Make sure that respite care workers and other family members are also familiar with your loved one’s medication routine, so that they can assist with medication monitoring as well. In the end, staying well informed and organized can give you much peace of mind and keep you from searching high and low for a pot of gold.

Have any tips for our readers? Share them with us below or on our Caregiver Forum.

Alisa Meredith, Writer

Guest writer Alisa Meredith is a blogger and social media professional with Scalable Social Media. Every once in a while, someone at Home Instead does something that compels her to stop Tweeting and write something real! This is one of those times.

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