Our aging population is the largest consumer of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and vitamin and supplements in the US and a large percentage take more than one prescribed drug. It is no wonder then that they are more likely to get them mixed up and not manage them properly. A study performed by Uptodate.com, an evidence-based information resource for medical professionals, shows that 87% of seniors take one prescription drug, 36% take 5 or more, and 38% use over-the-counter medications.
According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), medication mismanagement is one of the leading causes for older adults to be placed in a nursing home. They also state that around 30 percent of hospital admissions for older adults are drug-related and some 11 percent are due to nonadherence to medication instructions. In addition, 10–17 percent is caused by adverse drug reactions (ADRs) and this is not the worst of it. Older adults that are taking more than five drugs when released from the hospital are more likely to return to the emergency room and then be readmitted within six months of being discharged.
When asked, most older adults confessed that their number one desire was to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Correctly administering your medications is an essential step to maintaining your health and wellbeing, but more importantly, it is a necessary part of staying independent.
Following a few simple procedures is the key to keeping up with your medications and making sure you don’t fall into some bad habits. Below are some suggestions to help you manage your medications.
Make a list of all medications you are taking and keep them in one location, preferably in a cool dry place, with the exception being drugs that might need refrigeration (your doctor should be able to provide this list for you but double-check it for accuracy). Organize them based on how often they are taken, if they are regular every day or taken as needed, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter, vitamin and supplements, etc. KEEP ALL DRUGS SAFELY STORED WHERE CHILDREN CANNOT REACH THEM!
Use a pill organizer that allows for at least a week at a time and separates them from morning and evening doses. If you are required to take them more than twice a day find an organizer with more compartments so you can divide them based on hours each day rather than days. Find an alarm system that alerts you when it is time to take your medications. It can be a simple old-fashioned alarm clock, or if you are comfortable with modern technology, find a source that offers multiple alarms throughout the day. In most cases, your smartphone will work for this or a home monitor system like Alexa can be programmed to notify you when it is time to take your medications. The key is taking them at regular times each day no matter what you may be doing. The nurse at the hospital wakes you up to take your medications at designated times throughout the day and you should do the same, regardless of how ridiculous you may think that is. If your medication says to take it twice a day that means morning and evening, not two together at the same time. Some medications can be harmful or even fatal if taken too close together so make sure you take them at the proper times throughout the day. Your medications are designed to improve your health but that only works if you take them correctly.
Most pharmacies will remind you of upcoming renewals on your medications but don’t take that for granted. Check and make sure there is a system in place to keep your medications current and ordered in time to replace any that may be running low.
Adverse Drug Reactions or ADRs can be very serious and you should double-check with your pharmacist to make sure that what you are taking is compatible with other drugs. This includes all pills and liquid prescriptions along with any over-the-counter medications you are taking, but don’t forget to include all vitamins and supplements as well. These can be dangerous if taken with certain medications and you should make sure your doctors know if you are planning to include them in your daily regimen. If you decide to investigate your medications for ADRs yourself using an online resource and find a discrepancy do not make any changes without asking your doctor first.
One of the biggest problems associated with medication management is remembering when to take them. If you are getting forgetful or losing track of day or night (some people who don’t leave their house for long periods of time may get confused and not know if it is day time or night time) it is probably time to consider getting help with managing your medications.
Another concern with some older adults is denial. It is more common than you may think but many older adults don’t want to admit that they may not be thinking as clearly as they once did. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson or general old age doesn’t hit like a thief in the night. This is a slow process that gradually takes root over extended periods of time and most don’t realize it or want to admit it, so they live in denial. This form of denial is the most dangerous because it can lead to very serious consequences. It is not just the danger, and possible death, from mismanaging medications, but what about operating dangerous tools or driving a motor vehicle?
If you or someone you know has had success convincing an older relative or friend, that was previously living in denial, that it is time to allow someone to help we would love to hear how you were able to manage it. Please leave us a comment in the form below and share your method with us so we can share this with others.
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