If you have a senior in your care, you may be overwhelmed by the number and variety of medications you must manage. And you are probably also aware that overdoses and drug reactions are fairly common as well.
As we reported in the Home Instead Senior Care of Minneapolis June 2011 blog on Preparing for Senior Emergencies, there are a number of things you can do to thwart emergency situations for seniors. Managing medications is among the top priorities, since over 25% of senior hospitalizations are directly related to adverse reactions to drugs.
In this post we’re focusing specifically on everything you need to know to manage senior medications. Some good preparedness strategies can go a long way toward helping you to track and manage medications and watch for warning signs of medication overdose.
What is Considered a Medication?
First, it is important to note that the term “medications” refers to any pharmaceutical prescriptions the senior is taking, as well as all over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Both prescribed and OTC medications should be monitored carefully for reactions and/or interactions with one another. Be sure to also ask the senior’s primary care physician to review the senior’s vitamin and supplement regimen as well.
Daily medication management strategies are important, whether you are managing medications for one senior or for many. Daily strategies include the following:
- Follow exact dosage instructions for all prescriptions and over the counter (OTC) medicines.
- Use one pharmacy for all prescriptions and OTC medicines, and ensure that the pharmacy has a complete list of all medicines on file.
- If the senior sees more than one physician, ensure that all doctors have a list of all medications.
- Read all medicine precautions and potential side effects, and know what to watch for.
- Follow any precautions with regard to alcohol use in combination with medicines.
- Dispose of expired medications and any medications your physician has told you to discontinue.
- Use a pill organizer to organize medications by dose and time of day.
- Never take medications that were prescribed for someone else.
- Contact the senior’s primary physician regarding any side effects such as nausea, depression or sleep problems.
Managing prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can be a daily challenge because every medication has its own regimen instructions for how and when it should be taken. Using tools such as the following will help you to manage these regimens.
1. Use the Medication Tracking Sheet from Caregiverstress.com to document all medications, dosages and instructions. Be sure to:
- Record a date on the sheet each time you update the prescription list.
- Bring the updated tracking sheet to every doctor’s appointment, and ensure that the senior’s medications are reviewed for potential interactions.
2. Use reminder and medications management tools and applications that integrate with your computer and smart phone. For example, you might want to consider the Caregiver’s Touch iPhone and iPod app. This app lets caregivers track and manage medications for up to 600 individuals. For a list of available tools see the Senior Health Tracking Tools blog post from Caregiverstress.com.
Be aware of potential side effects and what symptoms may signal an overdose or drug reaction. The following are the most common symptoms to watch for:
- Confusion or delirium
- Mood swings or psychiatric problems
- Dizziness, loss of coordination, or falls
- Sleep problems
- Loss of appetite or energy
- Sudden memory loss
Call the senior’s primary care physician right away if you suspect a drug overdose, or the senior experiences a minor reaction. Use your best judgment. Most importantly, in the case of a life threatening overdose or a severe drug reaction, immediately call 911.
There is always more to learn, when it comes to senior care. Here are some additional resources for you in your quest to be “in the know” with regard to senior medication management.
- See the Caregiverstress.com Give and Take blog post for tips on communicating with the senior’s physician(s) about the medication regimen.
- Learn more about when to seek medical help from the eMedicine Health guide to drug overdose.
- Review the medication management tools provided by the National Council on Aging, which include fact sheets and learning modules.