Did you know?: If you have a loved one with dementia, be sure to read our guide: Caring for a Parent at Home with Dementia.
Most older adults take a variety of daily medications, including both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Some people take more than one dose at different intervals throughout the day. It is vital to take these medications correctly to manage your health conditions.
Medication management is the practice of safely administering the proper medications at the dosage recommended by your physician. While this might sound like common sense, many people with complex regimens of medication can easily forget, swap, or otherwise improperly dose themselves.
If someone forgets to take a medication, or they take it at the wrong time or with the wrong substance, they may experience harmful health effects.
If you’re looking to more effectively manage your medications, here are some solutions that are both quick and easy to implement.
In the United States, Medication errors account for 1.3 million injuries per year. These mistakes happen anytime somebody fails to take their medicine as directed, a surprisingly commonplace occurrence, especially when someone is taking multiple medications.
Here are a few common problem areas.
As previously mentioned, it’s important to have all of your medications in one area, whether they are prescription or over the counter. You should have one drawer or cabinet that you keep all of your medications in for easy access. It may be a good idea to keep those you only take at bedtime by the nightstand.
Please note: Medications should be kept in a cool and dry place –– and never in the bathroom because moisture from the shower or bath can affect them. Keep in mind that some medicine, such as insulin, requires refrigeration.
Taking too much (or not enough) medication can lead to harmful side effects. In fact, improper dosing accounts for 60 percent of medication errors. Underdosing can leave you with pain or improperly treated conditions, including hypertension or other heart-related ailments. Overdosing, on the other hand, can be deadly if someone takes too much of a certain drug without realizing it. These can include blood thinners, sleeping pills, or anxiety medications.
One suggestion is that if you have pills that need to be split, try splitting them all at once before beginning your regimen so that you don’t forget and take too much later.
Those with memory impairment may be prone to this type of issue, as they may forget to take medication entirely or accidentally take too much of it. A pill organizer is a great way to keep track of this.
Did you know?: If you have a loved one with dementia, be sure to read our guide: Caring for a Parent at Home with Dementia.
Prescription drugs can sometimes have similar names and packaging which may cause older adults to take the wrong medication. It is a good idea to leave them in their original packaging if they are store-bought so that you don’t mix them up.
Most medications need to be taken at certain times of the day: morning, noon, or night; further, they’re often recommended to be taken with food or milk to decrease your risk of stomach upset. Antibiotics, in particular, can cause diarrhea because they can affect your normal gut bacteria. You should try to take antibiotics with yogurt or probiotics, as these both contain good bacteria that will keep your gut healthy.
Always follow your pharmacist’s instructions as to when to take your medicines so that they do not interact negatively with each other. Make sure your pharmacist and doctor review all your medications with you to make sure they can be taken together. There are also online drug interaction checkers you can use as well.
In no case should medication ever be taken with alcohol. Alcohol often reduces their effectiveness and can even have life-threatening effects if combined with certain medications such as sleeping pills.
Expiration dates on medications mark the last day a manufacturer can guarantee potency. While the FDA found 90 percent of drugs are still potent and safe after the expiration date, it is important to see your doctor regularly and replenish medication to ensure it works as intended. Do not just assume the expired medication is still good.
FYI: If you run out of medication prematurely or unusual drowsiness occurs (that’s not associated with the medication itself), it may be a sign of improper dosing.
All medications, whether prescription or over the counter (OTC), have labels with information on how to safely take them. Make sure you understand the instructions and that they are very clear before you start a medication regimen. Some medicines require different doses on different days.
A prescription medication label includes the following information:
The instructions for medication include how much to take, the time to take it, and the duration for which the patient must take it. As mentioned, sometimes medications must be taken at a certain time of day with food.
This information supplements any other directions the doctor provided when they wrote your prescription. If you have any questions about how and when to take your medication that is not explained on the label, call your doctor or pharmacist.
Make sure your doctor and pharmacist know your allergies to medicines, even if they are minor such as itchiness. These can get worse with repeated dosing. In addition, some medications may have different names, such as brand names, that may not be very clear as to what is in them, and which you may unknowingly be allergic to. Please note that nausea or stomach upset are NOT allergic reactions; rather, they are side effects, which may easily be treatable and usually pass in time.
Every prescription drug has federally mandated warning labels. These labels are displayed prominently on the side or back of the bottle. These warnings include important precautions related to the drug, including harmful interactions. Some medications may make you drowsy, so a label may instruct you not to drive a car or operate heavy machinery after taking it. Other medications must be taken with food or they can cause an upset stomach.
Other warnings include instructions on potentially harmful interactions. For example, some painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet contain acetaminophen. While this compound effectively treats pain and fever, it can damage the liver in high doses, so you should not mix it with other drugs that contain acetaminophen.
Plan ahead so you do not run out. Refill information is another indicator to keep track of on your prescription bottle. Medication can only be refilled by the pharmacy so many times before you must request a new prescription from your doctor. If medication runs out, and there isn’t a new prescription, you may have to go without medicine until you refill the prescription, a potentially hazardous waiting period. If you cannot reach your doctor, you can go to the emergency department or an urgent care clinic for short-term refills. Do not delay taking your medicines as this could be dangerous or even life-threatening.
Each prescription bottle has specific information on how to safely and effectively take medication. Even if you use a medication dispenser, keep the bottles on-hand so you do not lose the important information contained on these labels.
Organizing your medications can help you avoid errors, especially when you have multiple prescriptions. Eighty-five percent of adults aged 60 and over are using at least one prescription medication daily. As long as medications are organized, it’s easy to avoid errors.
To organize your meds, the first thing you should do is make a chart of the medications you take, the dosage, the time at which you take them, and other important information such as interactions with other drugs. This chart should also include any vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medications. Display this chart prominently where you generally store and take your medication.
Important advice: Give a family member or a friend a copy of your medication chart so they can help you if you forget your medication regimen!
For those who prefer to keep track of their medication schedules electronically, there are now medication apps to help you. Once you enter medication information into the program, the app sends medication reminders with associated dosages and instructions. Schedules can then be shared through the application with doctors, pharmacies, and caregivers. Some of these apps even send a reminder to caregivers or loved ones if the user ignores a reminder. Check with your doctor to see if he or she has one they prefer because it will make it easier for them to check on you too.
Most doctors now use “patient portals,” or apps/websites where patients can access their data, manage prescriptions, and even ask questions.
Some medical alert systems, like those from MobileHelp, have medication reminder features. To learn more, read our MobileHelp reviews.
Pill organizers are another simple and effective tool in which you can organize your medications. A pill organizer has compartments labeled with each day of the week. Once per week, a patient can distribute their medication into compartments. That way, each day, the patient can then take the contents of each container.
These are especially useful for those with memory issues. These items are also inexpensive and simple to use. Some pill organizers even come with additional compartments for different times throughout the day in case you have to take medications multiple times.
Organizing tip: Include food and medication allergies on medication charts.
Automatic medication dispensers are similar to pill organizers in that they store medications in compartments according to date and time. These devices, however, are set to automatically dispense the correct medication at a certain time. An alarm typically goes off when it’s time to take medication, though some newer models connect with cell phones to deliver notifications through an app.
When not in use, the machines can often be locked, which prevents people from taking the wrong pills or from others accessing the contents.
These are useful for those who prefer high-tech options for greater peace of mind. Here are a few of my favorite automatic pill dispensers:
|Hero Medication Dispenser||
||$29.99 monthly + $99.99 activation fee|
||$1,499 or rent for $99 monthly|
|Pria Medication Dispenser||
||$299 to purchase the device/$9.99 monthly service fee|
When a cycle of medication is completed or a medication expires, it must be disposed of properly. Too many unused half-empty prescription bottles around the house can be confusing and lead to accidentally taking the wrong medication.
According to the FDA, the best method for disposing of unused medication is to return it. The DEA has a database for drop-off locations for unused prescriptions. Pharmacies may also be able to take back unused medication. Ask your pharmacist if they have a medication disposal receptacle or a mail-in program to safely dispose of drugs.
Medication can also be disposed of at home. Some medications should be flushed down the toilet, especially those that can be abused or may result in death if taken incorrectly. Other medications should be crushed, mixed with a substance such as dirt or cat litter, and thrown into the trash. This method ensures that your unused medication cannot harm others. When disposing of prescription bottles, be sure to scratch out all personally identifiable information to protect against potential identity theft. In no case should you ever give a friend or family member any of your medicine as it may harm them.
To learn more about this, read my guide: How to Dispose of Medication.
Medication management doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many technologies and resources available to make managing and organizing multiple prescriptions easy. Building mindful medication practices contribute to both your well-being and a longer, healthier life. Formulating a comprehensive medication management plan can save time, provide peace of mind, and ensure you are safe from making medication errors.
Typically, medication management consists of proper storage, organization, dosage, timing, and monitoring of one’s medications. A loved one can usually assist in this process.
Medication management is the process of ensuring that a patient properly administers prescribed medication in order to achieve the desired health outcome.
Medication management is important because many people undergo hospitalizations or even die as a result of improper dosage or their inability to administer drugs as prescribed.
With regard to mental health, medication management usually consists of regular in-patient evaluations to monitor the treatment of psychotropic medications.
The five R’s of medication refer to: the right patient, right drug, right dose, right route, and right time. While this simple mnemonic device is not the end-all when it comes to medication management, it can certainly help one to bear in mind when determining the proper use of prescription drugs.