Medication Management and the Elderly

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BY ALLISON BROWN

It is estimated that elderly people take an average of seven medications daily. If you think of elderly married couples living together, one can clearly see that there are a lot of drugs around a given household.

As children of baby boomers, we must ask ourselves how are our parent(s) managing their medications and are they really able to organize and dispense them independently?

Elderly people are challenged with many sensory issues due to the ageing process.  Poor eyesight, as many individuals cannot see the prescription details on small bottles. Challenges with manual dexterity makes it difficult to open medication bottles.  Limited funds make the allure of sharing medication palatable and may seem acceptable practice especially if they feel that they have similar issues.

Understanding our parents’ key medical and medication needs is extremely important. Their family practitioner and the pharmacist are good starting points of contact. Marinating contact with one pharmacy enables the pharmaceutical team to get to know our parents on a more personal basis and be familiar with their prescriptions.

Pharmacists are knowledgeable professionals and talking to them is invaluable. Use the information they provide and discuss it further with your family practitioner as required. Ask about side effects, short and long-term issues related to the use of the prescribed medications. For a fee, there are options available to minimize the number of doses of pills to ensure that pills are taken without complications.

There needs to be more collaboration with specialists and the family practitioner, ensuring communication and proper oversight. Our elderly parents may need us to step in and facilitate this type of communication.  As our parent’s age, they may need to rely on us as their “medical advocates”. We may need to ask for this to occur and encourage communication when visiting any specialist with our parents.

Our parents should have an updated list of their medications that is easily accessible to aid in any unexpected emergency visits. There are medication apps that are available as well. Older adults should have an up–to-date list of medications easily accessible, since unexpected emergency visits can arise.  This list will be very important in the emergency department as other professionals will ask for the drug list.  We have to see ourselves as partners in the healthcare of our parents.

It is important to also note that our parents consume over-the-counter medications, naturopathic substances and Internet-ordered drugs which can complicate matters. It is prudent that these medications are accounted for as well. Assisting with the organizing of these medications in their home so they are located in one common place and ensuring that there are no expired prescriptions would be very helpful.

Many elderly suffer from issues with short term memory and often do not remember if they have already taken medication.  The result is over or under medication, once or twice might be fine but over a longer period of time the effects can be detrimental.  Blister packs, reminder alarms, services and even automatic dispensers can be utilized. Each situation is different and each solution must be tailored to meet specific needs.  Education is critical on the part of our parents and ourselves as their “healthcare advocates”.

Unsafe medication management is a key factor with many elderly which warrants a keen eye on how our aging parents are coping with medication management because the inability to perform this task can lead to very serious consequences.

One’s local Community Care Access Centres (CCACs) and local community support agencies, can be enlisted to assist in the process of fostering safe medication administration in the community and enable our elderly parents the opportunity to live independently in their homes.  Just as they say, “it takes a village to raise a child”, it equally “takes a village to enable our aging parents to live in their own homes”.

This article is dedicated to anyone who is caring for someone…thank you for your tireless efforts.  Healthcare professionals could not do their jobs without you!

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