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Aging parents and medication safety

Posted Jun 10 2009 6:43pm
Medication safety is an extremely important part of your parent’s daily lives and you would be wise to review their medications with them on a regular basis. With almost every doctor appointment they have – yet another pill is added or the dosage changed on current medications.
Many of the elderly population have a medication regime including 10 or 20 pills daily; some to be taken in the morning (with food) or before breakfast, while others still are after the evening meal or at bedtime. It is no wonder your parent may become confused about when to take what pill – it’s even a puzzle to those much younger when faced with similar circumstances.
MAKE A LIST Gather together every medication (prescription and non-prescription) taken regularly and list them including name of the medication, dosage, time of day it should be taken, with or without food, prescribing physician name and telephone number, etc. If a dose or directions are unclear or confusing telephone the doctor’s office or pharmacy. This step may sound unnecessary but is very useful for many reasons including:

1. Post the list on the outside of the refrigerator door and inside a cabinet door where medication is stored (more on storage later on). If your parent has a medical emergency the list is available for medical personnel and can be vital to your parent receiving the correct treatment and lessens the chance of allergic reactions, etc.
2. The med list should be carried in your parent’s handbag, wallet or glove box of the car if they are still driving. Again, as mentioned above, if a medical situation arises when your parent is not at home the medication list is a valuable resource for doctors or other medical personnel.
STORAGE OF MEDICATION In some instances a medication will need to be kept in the refrigerator in which case you would store it as directed but, by and large medications should be kept in a dry environment (according to several pharmacists I spoke with). They unanimously recommended storing medications in a linen closet or cupboard. They also vetoed storing medications in the bathroom vanity or cupboard to lessen exposure to a damp or humid environment.
Both parents need their separate container to hold bottles of prescription medication, vitamins, supplements, etc. This will help avoid confusion.
KEEPING TRACK OF MEDICATIONS Always leave medications in the containers from the pharmacy with labels intact. My parents have a Sunday afternoon ritual. They take their separate plastic tub of medication bottles to separate sides of the kitchen table – and count out doses for one week at a time into plastic pill trays. These trays are available in a variety of sizes at the pharmacy or department store.
The first time I was present when the Sunday ritual occurred it became obvious a good hand-held magnifying glass was needed. It is unbelievable how many of the pills are the same size and color and the only identifying mark was too small to read even with my bifocals.
Review the list of medications and determine when each is to be taken and the proper dosage, then divide the pills up between the appropriate day of the week and time of day in the plastic pill tray. I would recommend you observe your parents while they sort medication for the first couple of times in order to assure yourself they are paying proper attention to the task.
REMINDER DEVICES There are several different reminder devices designed to function as an alarm clock to remind your parents when it is time to take their medications. If hearing loss is an issue there is also a vibrating or flashing alarms.

Joanne Robbins has published several articles on a variety of topics. Dealing with our parents as adult children is an extremely important topic and you can find more My Elderly Parent information at
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