A Guide to Helping Seniors With Medication Management

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Elderly Medication Management Strategies A plastic pill planner box, with two rows of small containers labeled for each day of the week, the top row for AM and the bottom for PM

For seniors who take prescription drugs, medication management is a crucial component of maintaining good health. Medical providers may prescribe medications to improve and maintain patient health, but it is often up to patients to adhere to their prescription regimen.

According to a study about medication nonadherence, seniors may not take medication as needed due to a decline in cognitive function. Some seniors may also choose not to take medications that cause bad side effects so they can avoid these unpleasant feelings.

Review this guide to learn more about the obstacles to medication management and how you can overcome them to help the senior you love live a healthy and sustainable life.

The Importance of Good Medication Management

When a senior is on a strict medication schedule and exhibits good habits relating to taking these medications properly, they’ll experience a better quality of life. Pain and illness are better managed on a daily basis. It’s also easier for medical providers to regulate a senior’s health when they know the medications they take regularly.

Seniors that display poor medication management could experience withdrawal symptoms from not taking certain drugs regularly. If a senior is under the care of a nursing home and medication isn’t managed properly, it may be grounds for legal action against the nursing home for senior abuse or even medical malpractice depending on the circumstances. When medication isn’t managed properly, the senior’s health is put at risk, which could lead to the exacerbation of chronic medical conditions or even wrongful death.

Medication Organization Tips

Keeping medications organized helps prevent seniors from accidentally skipping their medications or overdosing on prescriptions.

You can implement several strategies to ensure a senior keeps medication organized, including the following:

  • Use a pill organizer: A pill organizer allows you to assemble pills by day. You can buy a pill organizer or make it a fun and healthy family DIY project to create a customized pill organizer for your loved one.
  • Create a medication chart or calendar: A senior may feel more organized when taking multiple prescriptions if the schedule is written out. Use a calendar, day planner, or medication chart so the senior can follow along and know when it’s time to take certain drugs and the dosages to take.
  • Set alarms or use a smartphone app: If the senior is comfortable with technology, consider using a smartphone app that alerts the user to take medication at certain times. You can also set alarms on the senior’s smartphone with reminders to take medication. When you save an alarm, label it as the name of the drug and the dosage so there’s no confusion.
  • Place prescription bottles in order: Physically place prescription bottles in the order they’re supposed to be taken throughout the day or week. This helps seniors to visualize when they need to take certain medications.

Understand the Effects of Medications

As a caring family member, it’s important to speak with the senior’s primary care provider. Review medication labels so you can learn about side effects the senior may experience. You should feel confident in identifying which side effects are normal and which ones may need to be investigated.

It’s also important to discuss potential drug interactions with the senior’s medical provider. Offer the senior’s doctor a list of other medications and vitamins the senior may take to ensure there aren’t any undesired reactions between the chemicals in these medications and supplements.

It’s also important to discuss the dangers of mixing medications. If the doctor warned you about any medications that don’t interact well, write them down so the senior doesn’t accidentally mix them together. Be sure the senior doesn’t have access to drugs that could negatively interact with the medications they currently take.

Common Side Effects of Medications

Learning about a medication’s side effects allows you and the senior to prepare for what may happen when a drug is taken regularly.

Some of the most common senior medications and their side effects include the following:

  • Anticholinergics: These drugs are commonly used for an overactive bladder. They can cause balance problems and make it hard for users to concentrate.
  • Benzodiazepines: These drugs are given to seniors with anxiety or when they have trouble sleeping. They can increase the risk of falls because they also cause balance problems.
  • Antihypertensives: Prescriptions in this category are given to seniors to treat high blood pressure. When blood pressure lowers, it can cause dizziness upon standing, which also increases the risk for a fall.
  • Diabetes medication: If a senior is taking diabetes medication, it’s important to monitor their blood sugar levels. This medication can dramatically decrease blood sugar levels, which can cause hypoglycemia.
  • Anticonvulsants: Seniors who are prone to seizures may take these prescriptions to avoid an episode. However, these drugs are known to affect brain function so a senior may not think clearly or may feel “foggy” while taking these medications.

Dangerous Drug Interactions

It’s important to know which drugs interact poorly with each other so you can avoid a dangerous medical situation. Consult with your senior’s health professional to learn about potential drug interactions and what to look out for.

Some of the most common unhealthy drug interactions include the following:

  • Acid reducer and blood thinner: When a senior takes a stomach acid reducer but also regularly takes blood thinners, the acid reducer may cause the blood thinner to release more slowly, which could cause irregular bleeding.
  • Antihistamine and blood pressure medication: When a senior is on blood pressure medication and takes an antihistamine to clear up their sinuses, it may cause an elevated heart rate. When these drugs interact, they may also cause blood pressure to rise.
  • Warfarin and antibiotics: If a senior is taking Warfarin as a blood thinner, avoid antibiotics. When these two drugs are combined, the blood may be thinned excessively, which can lead to internal bleeding.
  • Statin drugs and St. John’s Wort: Seniors who take statins to lower their cholesterol should stay away from St. John’s Wort as a daily supplement. This vitamin supplement is known to block the effects of cholesterol-lowering medication.
  • Laxatives and kidney medications: Over-the-counter laxatives may affect kidney function. Seniors who are taking kidney medication should avoid laxatives or speak with their doctor about certain products before taking them.

Recognize Unsafe Medications for Seniors

Older bodies process medications and substances differently so there are some medications that seniors should avoid.

According to the 2019 Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults, seniors should avoid several drugs, such as:

  • Sedating antihistamines: When seniors take these medications, it can cause dry mouth, constipation, or delirium.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: In seniors, tricyclic antidepressants may cause constipation, delirium, and falls.
  • Antipsychotic agents: When these prescriptions are given to seniors, it increases their risk of stroke and death.

Communicate With Your Loved One

Communicating with your senior about the importance of medication management will help them to navigate this issue in a serious manner. Discuss the dangers of self-prescribing and emphasize the importance of consulting with a medical provider before taking any medication or vitamin supplements.

If possible, narrow down the number of medical professionals and specialists the senior visits. This will decrease miscommunication between medical providers and reduce errors in medication management.

Monitoring prescriptions and doctor visit schedules are also crucial to your senior’s health. Be sure they’re visiting medical professionals when necessary and that their prescriptions are up-to-date.

If you suspect malpractice from a doctor or neglect from a nursing home, you may need to seek assistance from an injury lawyer to pursue legal action. To keep your loved one healthy and thriving, follow medication management protocol and ensure they’re taking care of themselves on a daily basis.


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