It’s not uncommon for teenagers to receive lectures and classes focused solely on the very real dangers of drug misuse, but are those providing home care for the elderly teaching their loved ones the same lesson? If not, their loved one’s health and safety could be at risk.
According to a recent survey, nearly one-fifth of seniors who are prescribed with five or more medications have difficulty managing them, but many are unaware that making these seemingly harmless mistakes can be extremely detrimental to their health as they age.
That’s why it’s essential that all caregivers understand why their loved one is at a risk of drug misuse and what they can do to prevent an emergency caused by medication mismanagement from occurring.
Why Seniors Are at a Greater Risk
If you’ve noticed that your loved one is prescribed with more and more pills as each year passes, you are not alone. Our risk of chronic conditions, like heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, increases with age, and the National Council on Aging estimates that 92 percent of seniors have at least one chronic condition and that 77 percent have at least two, leading many seniors to be prescribed a cocktail of medications.
Although prescription medications are essential in managing many of these conditions, the sheer amount of pills seniors need to take can be staggering. A recent AARP study found that seniors take an average of four prescriptions a day. When combined with other factors, like specific dosage instructions, potential side effects and cognitive decline, something that seems as simple as taking medications can become an extremely complicated task.
Signs Of Medication Mismanagement
Not only is medication mismanagement one of the biggest health threats facing seniors, but it also directly affects a senior’s ability to safely age in place. If you’re providing home care for the elderly, you must remain on the lookout for any of the warning signs that your loved one is having difficulty with their medications, including:
- New symptoms. If your loved one is taking multiple medications, it’s not uncommon for them to negatively interact with each other and cause new symptoms to appear, like a change in appearance, skin tone, weight or fluid retention.
- Dangerous side effects. Practically every medication comes with side effects, but side effects like dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness or sleepiness make performing daily tasks -- like managing medications -- much more difficult.
- Unopened pill bottles. If your loved one is diagnosed with a chronic condition and isn’t taking the necessary steps to treat it, then they are more than likely to experience a serious medical emergency. So if you notice that many of their pills go unopened, or you get a call from the pharmacy about prescriptions that have not been picked up, it could be a sign that something bigger is going on.
4 Ways to Prevent Medication Mismanagement
Should you notice any of the warning signs that your loved one is not managing their medications correctly, speak with your loved one’s doctor immediately about your concerns. After speaking with their doctor, you should also take the following steps to promote their health and safety at home:
- Stay informed by attending your loved one’s appointments. If you live far away and cannot consistently attend their appointments, ask your loved one’s doctor for a list of their medications. Just be aware that some physicians may require your loved one to sign a release allowing you to gain access to certain parts of their health care file.
- Discuss the side effects ahead of time. Some seniors may purposefully avoid taking a medication because they don’t like how it makes them feel, but talking about the possible side effects first will help prepare them for what they may experience. You should be particularly wary if your loved one is prescribed a type of blood thinner or an oral hypoglycemic medication as these typically cause the most side effects.
- Get your loved one a medication dispenser. If your loved one has difficulty opening pill bottles or keeping track of when to take their pills, an automatic medication dispenser is the perfect solution. Simple to use and affordable, these devices allow you to organize pills based on the day and time they need to be taken. An alarm tone and blinking light will alert your loved one at the designated time, and all they have to do is tilt the medication dispenser on its side to retrieve the pills. Plus, depending on which medication dispenser you purchase, many come with a tamper-proof locking system to prevent over-medicating.
- Invest in a medication management service. Services like Pill Pack pre-package both prescription and over-the-counter medications in packets that clearly label the date and time your loved one needs to take them. Since Pill Pack also automatically sends refills to your loved one’s home, this is a perfect solution if you live far away and your loved one can no longer drive to the pharmacy.
Promoting Safer Home Care for the Elderly
Even after taking these preventative steps, however, a medical emergency caused by medication mismanagement can unfortunately still happen. But with a Medical Guardian medical alert system, all your loved one has to do is push a button to contact our 24/7 monitoring center, and they’ll receive the immediate medical attention they need. Should you be especially concerned about dangerous side effects of medicines, you can also consider purchasing your loved one a medical alert device with automatic fall detection, to ensure that they’ll have access for help even if they are unable to press the button themselves.
Plus, if you’re not there when your loved one uses their medical alert system, you can rest assured that our 911-trained operators will notify you of the situation right away.