Anyone who is a caregiver – whether for a home care agency, a hospital, assisted living, or at home – will likely have to deal with medications at some point. Filling prescriptions, administering meds, staying vigilant to prevent toxic interactions, masking tablets in applesauce or pudding to ensure consumption, easing the discomfort of side effects – you name it, caregivers will almost certainly have to do it.
Though some caregivers are professionally trained to handle these tasks, the large majority don’t have a medical background. No matter how dedicated the caregiver, no matter if it seems that giving someone a pill twice a day is straightforward enough, medication management is no simple thing.
An article from Caring.com, 5 Medication Mistakes Caregivers Can Make, speaks to some of the common errors that occur even among the most conscientious of caregivers. In the article, these numbers from The National Center for Health Statistics puts the issue in sharp focus: Medication errors cause harm to more than 1.5 million people a year, more than 76 percent of those over age 60 take at least two prescription drugs, and 37 percent use more than five. The American Geriatrics Society says that every year, one in three adults aged 65+ has one or more harmful reactions to a medication.
Overmedication is one possible error that can cause harm. In a recent article on The New York Times’ “Well” blog, writer Jane E. Brody shared her own horrific personal experience; her 92-year-old aunt nearly died on account of the episode. The article, Too Many Pills for Aging Patients, points to what she believes is a “crisis among the elderly.” She recommends that family caregivers (and the individuals taking the medications) be more responsible about their prescriptions, which could mean taking a doctor to task about a new prescription, asking lots of questions, keeping detailed records, and notifying the appropriate chain of command should an adverse reaction occur.
Medication adherence is another challenge for caregivers. In the case of Brody’s aunt, too many medications, and not the right ones, is what landed her in the ER. But older adults with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, for example, may have to visit the ER if they don’t take their regularly prescribed meds, says this article from FierceHealthcare.com.
Ultimately, body chemistry is complicated. Medications can be helpful and harmful all at once. The best we can do as caregivers, or as people who take a number of prescriptions, is to be ever aware of what we are taking or giving, what the risks may be, and how it will affect our bodies. Caregivers and healthcare professionals who handle medications must always be vigilant.
Check out these basic tips from the National Council on Aging for medication safety:
Know what you’re taking. Make a list of all the things you’re taking (even vitamins, sleep aids or supplements) and keep it up to date.
Use one pharmacy and get to know the pharmacist well. It’s hard enough to manage taking so many meds, so don’t add filling and refilling prescriptions at several different pharmacies to the mix. Sticking with one pharmacy also allows you and the pharmacist to establish a good professional relationship, which will help when you have questions about new medications or a strange side effect.
Be aware of side effects. If something doesn’t seem right – and even if the individual has taken the medication before – notify a professional immediately. Don’t stop taking the medication until a physician authorizes it. Add notes about the side effects you experienced to your meds list (see tip #1).
Keep your meds safely stored. Besides keeping them in a cool, dry, dark location, it’s important to keep medications out of the reach of children, teens and young adults who may ingest them accidentally or for non-medical purposes. Read this post, Medication Safety Begins with You, for advice on safely storing medications.
About the Author
Michelle Seitzer is a blogger for SeniorsforLiving.com, which provides information on assisted living, home care, and Alzheimer’s care.
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