According to ASCP, a nonprofit focused on medication management, nearly 70% of older adults take at least one prescription per day, with more than 50% taking at least two per day. Seniors can experience confusion when faced with their medication regimen because of instructions, times medications are to be taken and requirements for each medication.
As they develop more health issues, Mary Ertle, project manager at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Cleveland area chapter in Beachwood; Paula Iacovetta, director of community relations and admissions at Gates Mills Club in Mayfield Heights; and Andrea Kneier, client care manager at Home Instead Senior Care in Oakwood Village, said even a few pills a day can seem like a major undertaking.
“A lot of it has to do with how seniors are going to doctors every single week,” Iacovetta said. “It seems like it’s all their life is about. Every time they go, things are changing, they’re getting new (medications) and it’s hard to keep under control yourself. They’re also embarrassed to tell their friends and families that they aren’t able to do it.”
Many times, aging adults become confused and miss too many medications, which can be a major problem, Iacovetta said.
“They hide it from (family) and (the family) doesn’t realize it until it’s too late and they’ve missed too many doses,” she noted. “Something transpires, and they realize mom or dad isn’t taking their meds. That’s when they realize it might be time for extra care to come into the home. It’s difficult and it’s a huge part of the health and well-being of seniors nowadays.”
Medication management starts with a clear plan, Kneier said.
“With a little direction or effort, you can have a positive result,” she explained. “First, it’s knowing your medications and keeping a list so you, and others, can reference the list. And when you organize that, there are also multiple medication management systems. That can be a pill organizer or smart systems like pill packs.”
If you don’t have a pill organizer, or it didn’t work in the past, there are other options.
“You can set a reminder with sticky notes or coordinating the pills with your daily routine,” Kneier said. “It’s connecting the medication schedule with things you do in your daily routine. Also, avoid hopping around to different pharmacies. That way, all your medications are together.”
Consistency is key, Ertle stated.
“Taking the drug as it is prescribed impacts how effective it will be,” she said. “It matters if it needs to be taken at a certain time of day or with food. If a person isn’t compliant with that, it could affect the safety and effectiveness of it.”
If sticky notes, routines or regular pill organizers don’t help, Ertle said aging adults can turn to technology.
“There are automated organizers with alarms on them if you don’t take it,” she explained. “You can also have apps on your phone or through Amazon Alexa to take your medications. Just don’t let your medications run empty either as it can be overwhelming to keep everything straight when reorganizing them.”
But if all else fails, families should band together and help their aging loved one get a handle on their pills.
“They can help with that pill organization if they are the one to set it up and set it up correctly,” Ertle stated. “They can be a reminder and call the family member. And if they are unsure if they’re listening to the reminder, it might be the time to consider companion care. It does take a village to be vigilant on these things.”
Iacovetta said, “Always be open to being helpful. Show them respect. Let your parents still be the parent. When these things start to happen, let them know it’s their choice. They’ll be more receptive to that.”
Regardless of the method, a clear plan is a great weight off a senior’s shoulders, Kneier said.
“It takes a huge burden out of your life, frees you up and eliminates the stress of the task,” she said. “It gives you confidence and you don’t have to rely on those 10 p.m. phone calls from your family member. They can call and ask you how you are, and not be your medication policeman.”