Part of a series on how to care for your aging parents.
How can you make sure that your parents are following their medication schedules? Can you check up on that without feeling as if you are snooping or violating their privacy?
You can, and you can do so respectfully. You may have to at some point.
Did your Mom tell you that her blood pressure is up? Does your Dad’s dementia seem to be progressing faster than expected? You may become one of those adult children who, out of curiosity, opens the bathroom medicine cabinet at Mom or Dad’s house and finds expired medication bottles that appear just half-empty. After your jaw drops, what do you do?
First, communicate your concern. This conversation should have three objectives. One, you want to tell your parent that you are really concerned that they are not taking their medication(s). Two, you want to find out why. Three, you want to learn what your parent is actually taking (and not taking) – the amount, the frequency of the drug.
Consult your parent’s doctor. In no way should you attempt to revise Mom or Dad’s medication schedule on your own. Share your concerns with their doctor, who has the knowledge to note alternatives and solutions. Talking to that physician should provide you with more insight into the how and why of their medication schedule.
Perhaps simplifying the medication schedule would make things easier. If Mom or Dad takes multiple medications a day, check with their doctor to see if equivalent drugs might be available that require fewer daily doses. Perhaps there are extended-release versions of a particular medication. Sometimes seniors absentmindedly ask for obsolete prescriptions to be refilled. If swallowing is a problem, large pills can be crushed (any medical supply store should have pill crushers for sale) and mixed with applesauce (which some people dislike) or pudding (which seemingly everyone likes).
Talk with the pharmacist who helps your parent refill medications. Obviously all medications have side effects, but certain drugs can also potentially interact with each other, and if your Mom or Dad takes multiple medications in a day, they might even have the same ingredients.
For example, some seniors take Tylenol for minor aches and pains. Tylenol contains acetaminophen. So do many cold and flu syrups. If your parent takes Tylenol and 1-2 doses of cold and flu syrup on the same day, they are probably taking 2-3 doses of acetaminophen (or more) in that day.1
Prozac is a commonly prescribed antidepressant. Occasionally, people taking Prozac will buy some St. John’s wort over the counter, thinking it will further help them counter depression. A pharmacist would call this a redundancy, and the medicines have the potential to interact.1
If a pillbox is needed, you have options. Some seniors are fine with the classic days-of-the-week, S-M-T-W-T-F-S pillbox. If Mom or Dad has poor eyesight, there are talking pillboxes available. Others have alarms. Can you find pillboxes noting the days of the week in languages other than English? Yes, online (and perhaps in your local medical supply store as well). There are color-coded pillboxes, and pillboxes that are larger and serve to hold multiple per-day medications. There are even day-of-the-week cups for liquid medications.1
You may want outside help. If you don’t live with your aging parent (or live close to them), it can be hard to check up on them with regard to adherence to medication schedules. You may want an RN or a caregiver service to visit your parent once a week for this purpose. The cost might be $20-100 per visit – an “extra” health care cost most of us can manage, a cost that might even be covered.
You may meet some resistance. Your Mom or Dad may feel as if you are micromanaging their daily activity. Let your parent know that this is not your intention. Tell your Mom or Dad that you are checking up on this because you care, and assure your parent that he/she is still the decision maker when it comes to medicines. You are trying to help them, and help maintain their health and quality of life.
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1 - health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/slideshows/how-to-help-aging-parents-manage-medications [8/22/14]