Caregivers Guide to Medications

Today, medicines contribute to our overall health in many ways. Medications treat disease, disabilities, and conditions related to aging. Medicines can cure diseases, prevent deadly illnesses, relieve discomfort and pain, and allow people to age with a higher quality of life. Medicines also save lives and extend life spans for millions worldwide.

Taking medicine can be risky. However, these risks aren't the same for everyone. Older adults and people with disabilities have a higher risk of medication problems. A caregiver can identify medication-related problems (MRPs) and work to prevent MRPs before they occur. A caregiver can help prevent unwanted expenses like hospital admissions and costs, assisted living care, or even nursing homes.

Around a quarter of nursing home admissions are related to problems with taking medicine. Caregivers are often a vital go-between for patients and doctors when taking medications correctly. They can significantly impact patients' ability to take their medicines appropriately and avoid the worst consequences.

Many caregivers help friends or family regulate their medicines. Taking medicine at the correct dose at the right time can be daunting, especially if the person cared for has Alzheimer's disease, dementia, or other memory-related impairment. Caretakers often keep track of medications and details such as: When to take them, how much, and any further essential instructions. This caretaker knowledge is crucial in avoiding severe medicine-related problems.

Male caretaker showing prescription medicine to senior man in bedroom at nursing home

Creating a framework of cooperation among all involved in patient care – from the patient to their caretakers, doctors, and pharmacists – is crucial for patients to get the best kind of treatment they can. Daily health, comfort, and quality of life depend on the medicines' ability to be used the right way.

How can caretakers and patients ensure they have themselves and their patient's team of health professionals on the same page? How can everyone involved work together to get the best treatment for the patient? There are lots of things to consider and questions to ask. In future articles, we will tackle this topic in a few different ways. Here are some of the ways we'll talk about caretakers when it comes to medicine:

  • Questions: Doctor's appointments can be overwhelming, intimidating, and stressful for patients and caretakers alike. How can we prepare for the doctor's office? How can we ensure that caretakers and patients leave the appointment feeling confident and ready for the next challenge? Knowing exactly what questions you'd like to ask your doctor or pharmacist is an integral part of your wellness plan. We'll offer examples of questions to ask, discuss other problems you may encounter, and talk about ways physicians and pharmacists can help.
  • Medication Problems and Prevention: a big part of a caretaker's role is to understand the risks and spot the symptoms of medication-related issues. We'll talk about some symptoms to look out for, how to know if a reaction is dangerous, how to organize medicines, and the basics of safe medicine use.
  • Resources: Caregivers are the pillar of the health and happiness of those they look after. We'll discuss responsibilities caregivers should consider and list informative resources for caregivers and patients.
Supplements in caregiver's hands

Questions About Medications for Physicians and Pharmacists

Patients and their caregivers can benefit from preparing for doctor’s appointments in advance. Make sure to consider your questions and concerns about conditions and medications. It may be helpful to take details down for easy recall later. Here are some questions to consider before the next face-to-face with your doctor or pharmacist:

  • Why is this medication right for me?
  • What will it feel like when I take this medicine?
  • How does the medicine work?
  • How long will I be on this medicine? Will I need to refill this monthly or at all?
  • How do I know my symptoms are improving?
  • What should I do if my symptoms don’t improve or worsen?
  • Will this medicine interact poorly with my regular medicinal regiment?
  • When taking this medicine, should I avoid certain food, drinks, activities, or anything else?
  • Can this medicine be taken in any alternative ways? (For example: crushing, chewing, dissolving, mixing with a beverage, etc.)
  • What are some problems I could experience from taking this medicine?
  • What steps can I take to avoid issues from taking this medicine?
  • How do I know it’s time to report a problem with this medicine?
  • What do I do if I think I’ve missed a dose or might have taken too much?
  • What take-home information is available on this medicine?
  • Is there a generic version of this medicine? Is it as effective or safe to take?
  • Is there anything else I need to consider when I take this medicine? (For example: specific instructions to take with a glass of water or to take after eating)
  • Is this medication absolutely necessary to take?
  • Is this medication the best and most appropriate for my medical condition?
  • Is this the best and most appropriate dose of this medicine for me?
  • Based on what you know about me and my current physical condition, is this medicine likely to be easy for me to take repeatedly and consistently?

Other Ways Doctors and Pharmacists Can Help

Many people have challenges when taking medications. It’s best to keep your doctor or pharmacist in the loop if you or the patient you’re assisting experience any difficulties. Here are some things that caretakers and patients can ask their pharmacists or doctors about:

  • Memory: Pharmacists have many pill boxes and other helpful memory aids that help keep doses and dose timing straight. Simple labels, alarms, or specially made bottles can help patients and caregivers remember and keep track of future and past doses.
  • Vision: Pharmacists can provide labels in large print, or caregivers or others can read labels out loud to help patients with vision issues.
  • Hearing: It’s acceptable to ask your doctor to speak more loudly or write down the most pertinent information to ensure that communication is clear and easy to understand.
  • Grip: It’s common for some older folks and others to struggle with grip and medication: pill bottles, inhalers, and injections can all be challenging when it comes to being able to squeeze or press something small or fragile.
  • Swallowing: some kinds of medicines are available in other forms. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if other medication options could suit your needs.
  • Scheduling: It can be helpful to build routines on top of one another to keep things simple and easy to repeat. For example, breakfast or bedtime might be easy reminders that it’s time to take your medication.
doctor prescribing medicine giving medicine to senior patient
doctor prescribing medicine giving medicine to senior patient

Medication-Related Problems (MRPs)

One of the essential things for healthcare professionals, consumers, and caregivers to consider is the potential for medication-related problems (MRPs). Quickly recognizing the symptoms of MRPs can help stop further health issues and unnecessary expensive doctor's visits and treatments. Some signs that a patient is experiencing an MRP are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Delirium
  • Insomnia
  • Shakiness
  • Incontinence
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of coordination or dexterity
  • Easily broken or fractured bones
  • Changes in speech or memory capacity

These symptoms can indicate a medicine-related problem, and caregivers should immediately contact a medical professional like a doctor or pharmacist if they arise.

Here are some of the causes of MRPs:

  • Need for New Medication: an undiagnosed problem, a change in the effectiveness of a drug, an increase in pain, and many other conditions could be cause for exploring additional medications for a patient. Patients and caregivers must be open about any symptoms or problems they may be experiencing – no matter how sensitive the subject.
  • Unnecessary Medication:Patients exposed to medicine they don't need might experience problems. Medicines can interact or be toxic. The cost of unnecessary medication is also another factor to consider.
  • Incorrect Medication: If symptoms don't improve, the patient may have been given the wrong medication. This could mean the patient has taken the wrong amount of medicine, or a new medication is needed.
  • Low Dosage: The dose may be too low when the medicine works, but only a little. A doctor or pharmacist might be able to recommend a higher dose to get better results.
  • High Dosage: High dosage is a common MRP for aging adults. The liver and kidneys, which process drugs in the bloodstream, might not work either. A lack of communication or organization could also lead to overdose. If a patient is experiencing any common MRP symptoms, caretakers should consider overdose when considering the potential cause.

A bad reaction to medicine can occur when medication is unsafe. This may be due to a patient's physical characteristics, an allergic reaction, or another of the common MRP causes. Some drugs may also be dangerous when taken in tandem. Before any new drug is added to a patient's regimen, patients, caretakers, and medical professionals must communicate well about which medications the patient is taking, how much, and when.

Caregiver giving medicine to old patient sitting at table at care facility centre
Caregiver giving medicine to old patient sitting at table at care facility centre

Here are some other things that might be helpful for caretakers and patients to keep in mind:

  • Keep complete lists of medicines in your regiment with you at all times.
  • Prep any injections, follow procedures and precautions, and make sure you are comfortable giving the injection the right way.
  • Store all medicines in a single, predetermined location in your home.
  • Store medications out of reach of children.
  • Do not mix medications within a single container.
  • Make sure medication is stored in a cool, dry place.
  • Store refrigerated medicines in a consistent location within the refrigerator.
  • Don't share medication with anyone else

How Can Deano's Senior Transit Help?

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