Poison Prevention Week (March 15-21, 2020) serves as a great reminder to keep dangerous chemicals out of the reach of children and pets. Unfortunately, some of the most hazardous substances in the home are lurking on nightstands, on countertops and in medicine cabinets. Seniors are at high risk for mix-ups with prescription medications, leading to bad reactions, trips to the ER, and hospitalizations. There are eight ways that caregivers in San Diego can help the elderly in home care manage their medications safely and correctly.

AARP found in 2016 that eighty percent of seniors 65 and older take at least two prescription medications regularly, and more than fifty percent take four or more!  Juggling multiple medications, their side effects, and the conditions they’re treating can put seniors at risk. It’s easy to get confused about dosage, frequency, and instructions for several drugs at a time. It’s easy to misread a label, or even forget if you already took the pill, or were just about to take it. This confusion can have serious consequences. The CDC reports that four medications common to the senior medicine cabinet – warfarin, oral antiplatelet medications, insulins, and oral hypoglycemic agents – account for more than two-thirds of emergency adverse drug event hospitalizations.

Clearly, while prescription medications aren’t poisons, they can have serious effects on seniors, whether they’re living independently at home or receiving home care in San Diego. They should be handled with care and caution. The CDC advises, “To reduce the risk of harm from adverse drug events in adults:

  • Keep a list of your medicines
  • Follow directions
  • Ask questions
  • Keep up with any blood testing recommended by your doctor
  • Take all medicines only as directed”

The advice from the CDC may be tougher to follow for seniors living at home who are taking multiple medications, OTC drugs and supplements on different schedules. The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging has created a medication tracking worksheet. List every prescription and over-the-counter medication as well as all vitamins and supplements. Bring it to every doctor’s appointment. Further, they advise asking the following questions at every doctor’s appointment, and taking thorough notes:

  • “What is the name of the medicine and why am I taking it?
  • What medical condition does this medicine treat?
  • How many times a day should I take it? At what time(s)?
    • If the bottle says take “4 times a day,” does that mean 4 times in 24 hours or 4 times during the daytime?
  • How much medicine should I take?
  • Should I take the medicine with food or not?
    • Is there anything I should not eat or drink when taking this medicine?
  • How long will it take this medicine to work?
  • Will this medicine cause problems if I am taking other medicines?
  • Is it safe for me to drive while taking this medication?”
  • What does “as needed” mean?
  • When should I stop taking the medicine?
  • If I forget to take my medicine, what should I do?
  • What side effects can I expect? What should I do if I have a problem?
  • Will I need a refill? How do I arrange that?
  • Each time you visit your doctor, tell him or her about new medicines you’re taking, and be sure to ask if you still need to be on all your medications.”

That’s a lot of information to record, process and track! Even armed with great questions and a list of medications, seniors may need a little more help. Home care companions for seniors can manage this potentially dangerous situation while they provide in home care in San Diego. There are eight ways caregivers can help seniors manage their medication safely and securely:

  1. Help keep everything corralled in one place: designate a spot and a container for all current medicines, vitamins and OTC remedies. Keep refills and backups somewhere else to avoid confusion.
  2. Make sure ‘the spot’ is cool and dry, and out of reach of children and pets.
  3. Make a list, and keep it updated. After every doctor appointment, review the list and make sure it’s current.
  4. Fill a pill organizer for the week, making sure each dose is correct. If some pills need to be split, do it in advance so there’s no risk of double dosing.
  5. Confirm the instructions for taking the medicine if they’re at all unclear.
  6. Set up a medication reminder system: create a chart that aligns with the pill organizer and the master list and attach a pen or pencil. If there’s a smartphone in use, set up alarms or even a pill management app!
  7. Be aware of and watch for the potential side effects of the medications. The more medications in use, the more risk of interactions and compounded effects.
  8. Help manage the refill process: mark the refill dates on the calendar because most insurance companies won’t allow early re-orders.

Caregivers can help seniors who want to maintain their independence at home manage the potential dangers of multiple prescription medications. The extra set of eyes that companion caregivers bring to the medicine cabinet provides extra care when managing prescriptions and home health.