The older we get, the need for medications to keep us well increases. While this is certainly understandable, it can also be difficult to manage or even intimidating at times. Taking both prescription and over-the-counter medications properly are vital to maintaining good health, unfortunately, not managing your medicine correctly can lead to serious issues. Skipped doses, or too much medication taken, can have a drastic result. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 55 percent of the elderly are “non-compliant” with their prescription drug orders, meaning they don’t take the medication according to the doctor’s orders.
There are many reasons for mistakes in taking medications on schedule; it’s seldom intentional. We’ve listed several common causes below along with suggestions for ways to resolve the problem. If any of these are concerns for you, consider making the changes suggested, and it just might help you get back on track.
- Vision Problems: Not being able to read the small print on labels or distinguish between pills can lead to potentially dangerous mistakes. There are several things you can do to help this situation. Be sure to keep your glasses nearby if you need them for reading. Ask the pharmacist for medication labels in a larger print size. Most importantly, take the time to look carefully at what you’re taking – don’t just grab a bottle and assume it is what you think it is.
- Memory Loss: If you suffer from memory loss, it is easy to understand that you may simply forget to take your medications, or potentially you may take your medicine on time, then forget you took it and then take it again. In either case – skipping a dose or taking an overdose – could cause potential harm. If you have a family member or someone in your life that can help you organize your medicine for a week at a time, that is very helpful so that you can see at any point in time what you’ve take and what is left. Ask them to use a pill organizer. There are many types of products available. There are even computerized pill boxes that send alerts if the designated number of pills have not been taken.
- Income: You may not have the money to buy the medications you need. This can certainly be a terrible situation and possibly one that you don’t want to talk about. There are a few options to consider that may help. One action that some seniors take is to split pills, cut back on the prescribed dose, or go without the medicine at all for long stretches. These are NOT good options and can be very dangerous to your health. Consider these options instead:
- Ask for generic drugs. They are the same medications as their brand-name counterparts but are less expensive.
- Check into financial assistance for prescription medication. Research Prescription Assistance Programs.
- Ask your pharmacist about discount programs that are available.
- Go to the drug manufacturer’s website to see if discount programs are available.
- Look for low-cost prescription savings plans.
- Swallowing Problems: If you have trouble swallowing a tablet or capsule due to health conditions, do NOT try to chew, crush, break or mix the tablet or capsule in food or drink. This can make the medicine ineffective because it may be released too quickly into your system. Instead, ask your doctor or pharmacist for liquids. This may not always be an option, but your caregiver will work with you to figure out a solution.
- Hearing Loss: Hearing problems can make it difficult to understand instructions that the doctor or pharmacist is saying. If this is an issue for you, ask for instructions in writing or take someone with you to be a second set of ears. Also, if you have a hearing aid, make sure you wear it!
- Understand the Medication & Follow Directions: Find out as much as possible about every medication – the name, dosage, frequency and side effects. See why it has been prescribed and ask the doctor to write down instructions for its use. Once you understand and have your questions answered, make sure to follow the instructions exactly and finish the entire prescription if instructed to do so.
- Make a List of All Medications: Keep a detailed list of all your medications and dosing information including the drug name, dosage and any special instructions from your doctor or pharmacist. Carry a copy of this list with you at all times. This record will be invaluable in the event of a serious drug interaction or overdose. Share the lists with your doctors. Also, use the same pharmacy to fill all prescriptions and ask the pharmacist to check for possible drug interactions.
- Keep Drugs Separate: Keep medications in their original containers. Do not mix different medications together in one container. This will avoid mix-ups.
- Associate Taking Your Pills with Another Daily Activity: Try taking your pills at the same time each day — right before you read the morning paper, when you brush your teeth, at the start of your favorite TV program, or maybe with the same meal if taking them with food is recommended. Remember that some drugs need to be taken with food, while others are supposed to be taken on an empty stomach.Taken properly, medications can keep you healthy and extend your life. Determining the best method for staying on schedule may take some trial and error, but with a little determination, you can take charge of the situation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your doctor or pharmacist until you are comfortable with the answers and have a full understanding of what you’re taking, why, and when it is supposed to be taken.