If you are acting as the caregiver for an elderly loved one, you have a great responsibility. You are an important and integral part of the well-being of another person. In order to assist you with this responsibility, we have put together a simple guide to managing the medications that he or she may be taking so as to ensure your elderly loved one's maximum safety and health.

Use an organizational guide

Many, if not most, of the conditions and diseases that people can develop as they age may be treated to some extent with medications. As such, medication is the most common treatment used by elderly people.

In fact, figures cited by the American Academy of Family Physicians show that four out of five of all adults in the United States use some sort of prescription drugs, herbal remedies, or over-the-counter medications at least once a week. Almost 30% of all American adults take five or more medications!

Medications tend to multiply as an adult grows older. This means that, depending on the specific circumstances of your elderly loved one, you may find yourself faced with rows of bottles of various pills, creams, and other medications.

Depending on the specific circumstances of your elderly loved one, you may find yourself faced with rows of bottles of various pills, creams, and other medications.

In addition to being overwhelming, this situation can become dangerous. With so many medications to administer and different schedules for each one, some caregivers can accidentally give a loved one a medication too soon (or too late). Other issues that arise include giving the wrong amount of medication or giving multiple medications for the same condition or problem.

To ameliorate this problem you may find it useful to keep a spreadsheet or journal that lists what medicine is to be administered when, and in what amount. This will help take the guesswork and memorization out of the whole process and will remove from your shoulders the stress of trying to keep everything straight.

In addition to being overwhelming, this situation can become dangerous.

Check with your pharmacist for special pill organizers or other aids that can help you keep things straight. These aids, of course, include things such as boxes with separate compartments, but technological developments have brought other aids, too. For example, you can get a bottle that emits a beep when it's time to take a medication and bottle caps that display a counter showing how many times the bottle has been opened (to prevent double-dosing).

Keep a list

...always good to double-check the work of a rushed and busy doctor...

You need to be sure you have an updated list of all the medications your elderly loved one is taking for his or her various conditions. This list will be important when checking to see if a newly-prescribed medication can have a reaction to a different one that your loved one is already taking. In theory, the doctor would perform a check such as this before prescribing new medications, but it's always good to double-check the work of a rushed and busy doctor who may be trying to juggle several new patients at a time.

Use a calendar

In addition to making sure that you give your loved one the right medication at the right time (and in the right amount) you need to make sure that you don't run out of medications. It's easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of juggling a career and other responsibilities with providing care to an elderly loved one, and more than one caregiver has discovered (in the middle of the night) that he or she has run out of a certain medication that his or her elderly loved one needs.

Using a calendar to prompt you a few days before a medication will run out is a good way to address this issue. Further, many pharmacies have programs where they can contact you and remind you that a medication is about to run out. Using these tools helps reduce the chances of running into a situation where you are out of the medication that your loved one needs to stay healthy and happy.

Conclusion

Taking care of an elderly loved one is a significant responsibility. This responsibility can be made much more difficult by virtue of the endless list of medications that he or she may be on. Trying to remember to give the right medication at the right time and in the right amount--and to keep refilling prescriptions before they run out--can be daunting. Try using some of the tools discussed above to help make your job easier.

Sources

Family Caregiver Alliance. Caregivers' Guide to Medications and Aging. Available at https://www.caregiver.org/caregivers-guide-medications-and-aging. Last visited January 2, 2016.

Jenkins, R.H., Vaida, A.J. (2007). Simple Strategies to Avoid Medication Errors. The American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Practice Management, 14(2):41-47.Available at http://www.aafp.org/fpm/2007/0200/p41.htm. Last visited January 4, 2016.

United Hospital Fund. Next Step in Care. (2008). Preparing Family Caregivers to Manage Medications: A Guide for Healthcare Providers.Available at http://www.nextstepincare.org/uploads/File/Guides/Provider/Provider_Medication.pdf. Last visited January 2, 2016.

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