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Barbara Garwood: A Caregivers Life

Medication management superpowers

A New York Times article published in April 2016, “The Dangers of ‘Polypharmacy’: The Ever-Mounting Pile of Pills,” brings to light the problem of polypharmacy in seniors. According to the article, the average senior is taking more medicines than ever before. Harvard researchers reported that nearly 40 percent of people age 65 or over now take five or more medications concurrently – a 70 percent increase in polypharmacy over 12 years. That’s a lot of pills. Pity the caregiver who is in charge of keeping up with them!

The challenges are many – remembering when to take what, complying with special instructions (with food/on an empty stomach/avoid dairy), keeping up with refills, etc. As a caregiver, what can you do to successfully manage those meds? Here are some pointers to simplify your life and keep your loved one safer and healthier.

  • Take ALL of your loved one’s medications to ALL doctors’ appointments. It is very important that all of his/her healthcare providers know the medications currently being taken. If your loved one sees more than one doctor or has been hospitalized recently, it is essential that the right hand knows what the left hand has prescribed.
  • Share with your healthcare provider any vitamins or supplements your loved one takes, as these may interact with certain medications or be contraindicated for certain medical conditions.
  • Let the healthcare provider know if you or your loved one make any changes to the prescribed medication plan. Your reason for the change may be valid, but it is important that the physician be made aware.
  • Share with your healthcare provider any allergies or adverse reactions your loved one has experienced with past or current medications. It is important for the doctor to know if a medication caused nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, or drowsiness, as all of these could lead to more serious complications – like a fall (that dreaded 4-letter word that begins with an F!).
  • Ask your doctor if the medications prescribed are necessary. A medication could have been prescribed for a condition that is no longer an issue. With the doctor’s guidance, weed out any unnecessary medications and simplify the drug regimen.

Your pharmacist is an invaluable resource for medication management. Here are tips for getting the most from your pharmacy.

  • Stick with one pharmacy! The pharmacist plays a vital role in minimizing possible drug interactions. By having all of your loved one’s medications filled at the same pharmacy, you will insure that the pharmacist has all the information he or she needs to safely fill your prescriptions.
  • Make sure your pharmacy is aware of any and all drug allergies and adverse reactions. This will allow them to give you a heads-up for drugs that may be in the same category as those that have been problematic in the past, and they can assist you in calling the physician for clarification or a possible change to another medication.
  • Make sure you can read the prescription label, as well as the information provided with your loved one’s medication. If the print is too small, ask that the information be printed in a larger font so you can easily read it.
  • Make sure you understand the directions on the bottle. A label may read “take as directed.” Do you know what the doctor directed? If not, ask the pharmacy or the doctor for clarification.
  • Ask if your pharmacy delivers. Many pharmacies will deliver your prescriptions to your door at no extra cost. This can save you valuable time.
  • Ask if your pharmacy offers prescriptions in blister packs. This can be a big help in keeping up with what to take and when to take it.
  • Ask if your pharmacy offers a photograph of the medication your loved one is taking. Some provide this in their information packet, reducing the risk of medication mix-ups.
  • Ask if your pharmacy will work with you to coordinate refill dates. If you can refill multiple meds at one time, it will save time by eliminating phone calls and trips to the pharmacy, as well as reduce the possibility of that refill date sneaking up on you.

Finally, take a look at those prescription bottles that have been sitting on the shelf untouched for months or even years. At least every six months go through all of your loved one’s medications, even those bottles hiding on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet. If they are no longer part of the medication regimen, dispose of them. If the expiration date has come and gone, dispose of them. If they caused an adverse reaction, out they go. Their presence in your loved one’s home only increases the risk that they could be taken by mistake.

Make sure you dispose of them the right way! Do not flush them down the toilet or put them in the trash. The Rowan County Health Department and the Center for Prevention Services have joined forces with local police and sheriff municipalities to provide drop boxes to safely dispose of expired or unneeded prescription drugs. The Rowan County Health Department has a drop box on site, as do most police and sheriff offices in Rowan County. These boxes are available to the public during normal business hours.

Your loved one’s medication plan is essential to their health, and simplifying it is essential to your peace of mind. Hopefully, these tips will increase your caregiver superpowers and your sanity.

Barbara Garwood is the transitional care coordinator for Lutheran Services Carolinas. For more information about caregiving,  call Trinity at Home at 704-603-2776.

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Garwood is a transitional care coordinator for Lutheran Services Carolinas. For more information about caregiving, please call Trinity at Home at 704-603-2776.

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