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7 Reasons Why Parents Won’t Take Medication

Posted Dec 22 2009 6:43pm

By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog

It is one of the smallest things that I do time-wise, yet I learn so much from doing it. As a Health Maven for the Caregiving community on, I answer questions from others about a wide range of issues in providing care for loved ones. I don’t get paid to do this.

Recently, I was asked, “How do I get my Mom to take her medication?”

Now, the person asking the question didn’t provide any other information. I only had her question.

It got me pondering.

Why does an aging parent fail to take his or her prescribed drugs?

My Dad was really good about taking his medications until about a year before he died. When I look back on it, almost all of these factors were involved to some degree.

7 Reasons Why Parents Won’t Take Medication

  1. Side effects- Is your Mom experiencing any problems after she takes her medication? Does it make her dizzy, nauseous, tired, sore in the muscles, have headaches, etc.? She may not want to take the meds because of some side effect that leaves her feeling worse than before. It is important not to ignore side effects. Let her doctor know as soon as possible. The doctor may want to change the dose or even change to a different medication.
  2. Drug interactions – If your Mom is taking two or more drugs, she could be experiencing a problem due to the drugs interacting. Some drug combinations don’t mix. Many pharmacies have special computer programs that alert the pharmacist to possible bad combinations. But, if your Mom gets her medication by mail or from two different doctors/pharmacies, problem combinations can go unnoticed. The website has a drug interactions checker. You put in the name of the medication you want to check and it gives you a list of other medications that may interact with the one your Mom is taking. Some foods and herbs can interact with medications, too. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice is a major culprit. Here is a website run by a pharmacist that lists possible bad combinations.
  3. Worried about the cost – Some seniors knowingly miss medication because they are trying to save money. In this case, ask her doctor if there is a generic form of the drug that can be prescribed instead of the expensive name brand. Compare prices at different pharmacies. Walmart and Costco sell some generics at incredibly low prices. Medicare Part D Drug Plans vary widely in the medications they will cover. Is your Mom paying full price for a medication that would be covered under another plan? Here is a document that describes them for each state. It pays to comparison shop.
  4. She just forgets – If your Mom is an active volunteer or still works or otherwise has a busy life, she may be forgetting to take her medication because she is busy. Many women devote their lives to helping others but neglect their own health. My Mom was like that. So, if she understands the importance of taking her medication, it is a matter of setting up a reminder routine, like putting the medication bottle out on the counter in a conspicuous spot. Or, put a reminder note on the fridge, the tea kettle, the coffee pot or wherever she will see it. Some cell phones have alarms you can set as reminders during the day., has a way to send yourself text or email messages as reminders. Find the routine that works for her.
  5. Your Mom has dementia – Some forgetfulness is normal as one ages. But, if you have explored all of the other options above and she just can’t seem to get her medications on schedule, then she may have more serious problems that you should not ignore. My Dad functioned well on his own until he was 81. Gradually, his capabilities began to slide. He only took some of his medications or only some days. At that point, he needed help. He was mentally no longer able to keep his meds straight. In my Dad’s case, he also had trouble cooking. He would forget that pots were on the stove even when he set a timer. His usually neat checkbook was a mess. Bills weren’t getting paid and he got collection notices. It took a while for me to understand that he had lost his ability to function and needed regular care. If your Mom is at this point, you need to discuss various ways to provide care for her depending on finances. Can a family member or close friend visit to help with medication? Do you need to hire an in-home care provider? Does your Mom qualify for help from your local Office on Aging (in the phone book under “County Offices.”)
  6. You are caring for your Mom in your home –She is stubbornly refusing to take the medication you are giving her. This is a most challenging spot to be in. Your roles have reversed — you are the parent but your Mom isn’t cooperating. The best thing you can do is to become detached emotionally from the situation. Your Mom is not fighting you. She is desperately trying to stay in control of some part of her life. It is frightening to be aware that your abilities are slipping. So give her some control. Give her a choice between water or juice with her pills. Create a rewarding situation, “After you take your pills, we will watch your favorite TV show.” This is not manipulation. This is dealing with your Mom at her level today rather than where she used to be.

The best thing you can do is take a step back and try to understand the reason your parent doesn’t want to take the medication. Check to see if the problem is real.

I was shocked to discover that my Dad was right when he refused his medication. After a hospitalization, he was prescribed double doses by mistake! When we checked with his regular doctor, she immediately changed the doses.

As sick as he was, Dad was right!

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© 2009 CK Wilde. All Rights Reserved. I don’t receive any compensation for the links in this article. Some of my other blog posts contain links that provide a small commission (books from Amazon, for example.) Please feel free to link to this post but you must have prior written permission (please use the comments) to reproduce this post either whole or in part

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