8/23/2021 | By Seniors Guide Staff

If your senior loved one is residing in an assisted living community, chances are they receive safe medication management services. However, for those living at home, that responsibility falls on the adult children and caregivers.

While medication management guidelines sound simple on the surface, it can be confusing. And since medication errors can be dangerous or even fatal, their administration must be done correctly.

Here are some things to consider if you are caring for an older adult taking multiple medications.

Why is medication management important for seniors

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 350,000 people are hospitalized each year because of the adverse effects of their medications. Proper medication management strategies are a preventive measure that could help avoid serious health hazards in older adults.

It’s not uncommon for seniors to take various medications, vitamins, and supplements to treat an array of symptoms and health conditions. The more pills they take, the greater their risk of medication mix-ups. Sometimes, these seemingly minor mistakes turn out to be dangerous or deadly.

Specific issues that can hinder correct and safe medication management

Factors that amplify the risk of health problems caused by medication mismanagement in older adults include:

  • Multiple chronic diseases
  • Having more than one doctor
  • Cognitive conditions, including major neurocognitive disorder (formerly called dementia)
  • Lack of a primary care doctor to coordinate care
  • Mental health conditions
  • Frailty

The causes of health problems resulting from medication mismanagement in seniors

  • Drug interactions: Some medications may not be taken together or with specific foods or drinks. For instance, alcoholic beverages can alter the effectiveness of certain medications.
  • Health conditions: Older adults with multiple health conditions and doctors might be receiving more medications than necessary if their care is not closely monitored. Memory issues and mental illness often cause seniors to take more prescriptions than they need.
  • Falls and fractures: Taking multiple medications can increase the risk of falls and hip fractures in older adults.
  • Not taking their meds: Seniors may inadvertently forget to follow their doctor’s directions. Others may deliberately choose not to fill prescriptions, skip doses, or discontinue treatment because of the cost of their prescription drugs.

Tips for medication management for seniors at home

A relatively simple system can help seniors avoid potentially dangerous errors such as taking more medication than prescribed, missing doses, or taking the wrong drug. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Collect all prescribed medications, supplements, and over-the-counter meds into one location. Having them scattered makes it easier to lose track of them while consolidating them in one area ensures better organization and safety.
  • Maintain a continuously updated medication list. Knowing precisely which medications your senior is taking – and their dosage – could prevent harmful drug interactions and overdoses.
  • Organize the medications for the coming week. An inexpensive pill organizer allows you to pre-sort their medicines for the week. 
  • Store the medications properly. You should keep most medicines in a cool and dry place. Also, store them out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Create a reminder and tracking system. Many older adults take so many medications that it is difficult for them and their caregivers to remember when to take each dose.
  • A medication reminder system and tracking log can help older adults know that they have taken the correct meds at the right times. You could use a simple chart with the medication name and dose, day, and time of day. As the senior takes each amount, they record it with a checkmark. Or you could set a series of alarms on their phone to remind them or download a medication management app if they are tech-savvy.
  • Be aware of the probable side effects of each medication. Understanding the side effects helps you monitor any health changes that could occur after your older adult starts a new drug, increases the dosage, or combines medications differently.
  • Assist seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia with their medication. If your older adult has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may be confused about their medications and will likely need help to sort it out. 
  • Make sure the medication instructions are clear to you and the older adult. It’s essential to follow the doctor’s instructions to minimize the risk of drug interactions, side effects, or a reduction in the drug’s effectiveness.

Related: Can I safely reduce my medication use?

Educating yourself and your senior loved one will help them get the best results from their medication and help them avoid the risks associated with them. Talk to their healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the medications they are taking, or other safe medication management inquiries.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff