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As we get older, many of us have the need for medication for a variety of health conditions. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that we are putting chemicals into our bodies and so it is essential to properly manage our medication in order to get the most out of it and in the safest possible way.
Why Medication Management is so Important for Seniors
Having to take lots of different types of medication can feel overwhelming, even for younger adults. However, as a senior, there are other complications such as cognitive impairments that can make things even more difficult. Let’s take a look at why it’s so important to stay on top of managing your medication.
Taking Multiple Medications
According to one study, five types of medication are considered to be a ‘normal’ amount for older adults. Also, think about the fact that there are lots of seniors taking far many more medications than this.
There are several different types of medication taken by older adults, including statins and anti-psychotics, all used to treat a range of health conditions. Taking more than five different types at once is known as polypharmacy, and according to research, this is becoming more and more common and can start as early as middle age. One of the biggest issues relating to this is that research has shown us that people who take higher numbers of medication are more likely to have adverse drug effects and there has been evidence to suggest that this increases the risk of hospital admissions.
The problem when taking so many different drugs is that it can be difficult to keep on track with what you’re supposed to take and when you need to take it. As a direct result of this, many seniors struggle with non-adherence, in other words, missing a dose. It can be useful to take certain medications at certain times to avoid this, but as we have noted, this can be a challenge when there are so many.
As well as missing doses, it isn’t uncommon for seniors to take more of any particular medication than they need to. This could be potentially dangerous, depending on the medication. In some of the most severe cases, the person could overdose, which could be fatal.
Increased Risk of Side-Effects When Taking Multiple Medications
We have modern medicine to thank for a lot. People are much better able to live with conditions because of the availability of medications. But since these medications are, for all intents and purposes, foreign to our bodies, there is a risk of side effects.
Most of us will experience side effects from medication at some point or another, but as we get older our bodies change and can become more sensitive to drugs. The result of this is that the chances of side effects are much higher, especially where polypharmacy is concerned. The more drugs you are taking, the more likely you are to have side effects.
For example, there are some drugs, like proton pump inhibitors, that have been linked to some very worrying side effects that could include hip fractures, dementia, kidney disease and other conditions. What’s even more worrying is that these drugs aren’t always even necessary.
But it isn’t only the side effects that we have to consider. When taking several different types of medication, there is always the possibility of negative interactions between these drugs. While one drug may be effective on its own, if it is taken with certain others, it may behave in a different way, reducing its effectiveness and potentially causing unwanted problems.
In seniors, there is also more chance that a patient may experience an adverse drug reaction owing to the fact that they are more sensitive to the medication. This can result in unwanted symptoms such as confusion, drowsiness, and an increased risk of falls.
Moreover, the liver and kidneys may not function as well as they once did. These organs help to filter substances from the body, but when they aren’t working as well, this means that drugs could stay in the body for longer. The result? More chances of bad interactions and side effects.
It is thought that as many as 40% of older adults suffer from some sort of memory impairment. This, along with the prevalence of cognitive conditions like dementia, means that it can be much more difficult for seniors to remember when and how to take their medication.
Some seniors may find instructions too complicated to understand and may also forget that they have already taken a dose for that day, taking a potentially risky second one.
As well as cognitive impairments, some seniors may find understanding their medication difficult because of issues with hearing or vision. Being unable to correctly hear or read instructions can lead to older adults taking incorrect doses or using the medication in the wrong way. For example, they may swallow a tablet that is intended to be dissolved in water.
Tips for Managing Medication for Older Adults
While it can feel very intimidating to learn about the potential problems associated with polypharmacy and medication for older adults, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce problems.
1. Keep a List of the Medication You’re Currently Taking
Having a list of all the medications you are taking is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to manage things. Your list should contain enough information to keep you fully up to date on all the medications you are taking. This should include:
- The name of your medication
- How often you need to take it
- Why you need the medication
- Whether it is prescription or over-the-counter
- The expiry date of the medication
It is essential to keep this list up to date by adding or removing medications as necessary. If you think you might struggle with this, you can ask a caregiver or family member to help you maintain the list.
2. Pre-Sort Medication for the Week
Things can feel a lot less confusing with a bit of pre-organization. That’s why sorting out your medication for the week can be very useful as well as make things a lot safer.
You can ask your pharmacist to sort your weekly medication out. They will pack it into weekly boxes that contain blister packs with the times and dates that each medication needs to be taken, so there is no confusion.
Alternatively, you can organize your own medication at the beginning of each week. Using an organizer that has a generous number of compartments that are clearly labeled with dates and times is essential. Also, don’t forget to pre-cut pills if this is necessary as it can save time and confusion for the senior when it comes to taking the medication.
3. Use a Pill Organizer
This tip does tie in with the previous one, as you can use a good pill organizer when sorting your medication out for the week. This can be done either by the senior or by a caregiver if they will find it too confusing.
There are standard pillboxes that usually contain several compartments. These compartments are labeled with days or times that show the user when to take each medication. This is a simple method of organizing medication but does rely on the senior remembering to check the pillbox throughout the day.
If they do not remember to take their medication, it is possible to set some sort of reminder, whether this is a phone call from a loved one, a notification on a smartphone, or something else. However, some adults with severe cognitive impairments may struggle with this.
Moreover, these pill organizers aren’t always large enough to accommodate all of the necessary medications. There are those that can be locked to prevent overdose but this also relies on a caregiver being present to open the box when it’s time to take a pill.
There are automatic pill dispensers that can be set to a particular schedule, dispensing pills as they are needed and alerting the person when it is time to take medication. Some of these dispensers, such as the Hero medication dispenser, allow you to load up to 90 days worth of pills, so there’s no need to worry about organizing things every week.
They also come with a compatible app that can alert caregivers if there is a problem, such as a missed dose.
4. Keep Medicines in a Secure Place
Make sure that you keep all of your medications in one place. Not only will this be safer, but it will also remove any confusion when looking for certain pills or drugs and will stop you from losing track of things.
However, you should make sure that you choose a suitable location for your medications. Many people will store them in a bathroom cabinet, for example, but the humidity in this room could lessen the efficacy of the drugs, so this should be avoided. You will also need to make sure that the medications cannot be accessed by children or pets. Choosing somewhere high up or with a lock will help to avoid this.
There are some medications that need to be kept chilled in the refrigerator so make sure you check the storage instructions otherwise this may affect how the medication performs.
You should only ever take medications that have been prescribed for you. Some people may be more sensitive to certain drugs and they may not be suitable. Even if a medication has done wonders for someone you know, it doesn’t mean it will have the same effect on you. In fact, it could be very dangerous.
Finally, when storing your medication, make sure that you always check and note the expiration date. Taking expired medication, could cause unwanted effects since toxic compounds can develop not to mention that the medication will be unlikely to perform as well.
5. Understand About Potential Interactions & Side-Effects
Some medications do not interact very well with others and this is something you must be aware of. Start by speaking to your doctor and let them know exactly what you are currently taking. They will be able to advise you of any potential interactions and what drugs to avoid. You could also use a drug interaction checker tool online to get more information.
Keep in mind that it isn’t only medical drugs that could interact negatively with one another. It is also possible for herbal remedies, alcohol, recreational drugs, and other things to impact the way your medication performs.
One of the things that surprises a lot of people is that certain foods could interact with your medication. Before you start to take anything, be sure to check for any food interactions so you can avoid these. While there are too many examples to list in a single guide like this, some of the most common include grapefruit interacting with statins and leafy greens interfering with the effectiveness of blood thinners.
6. Review Medications you’re Taking on a Regular Basis
When you are prescribed your medication, your doctor is of the belief that it will benefit you best at this time. However, our health changes over time and so sometimes, medications may no longer be suitable. This is why it is incredibly important to have regular reviews with your doctor who can adjust doses or medication to suit your current needs.
When you visit your doctor, take notes of all the medications you are taking including any over-the-counter ones. This will best allow your doctor to assess your situation and provide you with the most effective program.
7. Set-Up Pill Alarm Reminders
If you are using an automatic pill dispenser, then this will come with a built-in reminder system. However, for those using a traditional pill organizer, alternative arrangements should be made to ensure medication is taken correctly and on time.
There are several things you can use, but a smartphone app such as the Medisafe Medication Management app is one of the most reliable. The app allows you to set reminders for several different medications and links up with the health app on your cell phone for a complete picture of your health.
But you don’t have to use the latest tech. A lot of seniors may struggle with this, and that’s OK because even something simple like an alarm clock can work. If the senior has hearing impairments then you could also use a flashing light so they don’t miss the reminder.
8. Follow the Medication’s Instructions
Taking too much or not enough medication can be dangerous. Furthermore, if you don’t take the medication as instructed, this could reduce its effectiveness or cause unwanted side effects. For this reason, it is vital that you fully read the instructions before use. If the senior is unable to do this themselves, then a caregiver should do it for them and explain everything so that the older adult is fully aware.
Some medications will tell you to take them at a specific time such as just before food or with your main meal. Others may state that they cannot be taken with alcohol as it will have a negative interaction. You should always adhere to these instructions for your own safety and so that the medication performs as expected.
If you are in any way unsure about how or when to take your medication, get in touch with your doctor for clarification before you start taking it.
It’s important to make sure that the medication container is clearly labelled so that the senior knows exactly what’s inside. This can work well alongside the medication list we discussed making earlier on. Importantly, you should also ensure that the expiration date is clearly visible, and medication should be discarded once it reaches this date.
9. Keep to a Regular Schedule
By setting a medication schedule, you will be much less likely to forget what you need to take and when. It’s a good idea to take your medication at the same time each day.
It may not be possible to take all medications at the same time each day as some will need to be taken at specific times. But if you can get into the habit of taking certain medications at certain times, you will find things a lot easier to manage.
10. Ensure You Get Refills on Time
Your medication will not be as effective if you miss a dose. This is why it’s important to make sure that you arrange your refills ahead of time so there’s no gaps. Moreover, by taking note of the expiration date, you will be able to get fresh medication before this runs out.
It’s also a good idea to get all of your medications from the same pharmacy, where possible. This is because many pharmacies will have your details on a dedicated file so they are better able to manage your medications and stay on top of things for you. This will also mean that your pharmacist can keep an eye on what medications you are taking and spot any dangerous interactions.