How to help manage medication for your loved one
This is part 2 of a series of posts on medication management. Part 3 discusses managing medication between care settings.
By Mojgan Haji, Pharm.D., RPh, and Katherine Loomer, Pharm.D., BCACP
Managing multiple medications is difficult, especially for someone struggling with physical or cognitive limitations. If you discover that your loved one needs help, you may end up taking on the important task of medication management.
Make a list of all medications
A great first step is taking an inventory of all medications your loved one is taking. This list is an essential tool for your loved one’s providers, especially in an emergency situation:
- Have the medication list available for medical appointments.
- Include what each medicine is being used for, since medications can have multiple uses.
- Keep the list updated, adding any new medications or dose changes. If a medication is stopped, it can be helpful to make note of the date and reason for stopping it.
- Carry it with you—and make sure your loved one does, too.
The list should include:
- Pain relievers, including OTC medications like Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) and Tylenol (acetaminophen)
- Remedies for heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease, including Tums or Rolaids (calcium carbonate), Pepcid (famotidine), Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium), Prilosec (omeprazole) and Zantac (ranitidine)
- Dietary supplements
- Vitamins, such as calcium and vitamin D
- Natural medicines, such as St. John’s Wort
- Nutrition drinks, like Ensure or Boost
To stay organized, you can print out a personal medicine form from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Or you can use the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s form called My Medicine Record.
Smartphone apps can also be helpful, but be sure to look for one that is HIPAA-compliant. That means your loved one’s health information is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
More ways you can help
Once you know what’s on your loved one’s medication list, take some time to learn more about the medications, and think about how you can stay organized:
- Read the label and follow all directions, including the time of day it should be taken
- Know which side effects must be reported immediately
- Keep medications in a safe place, away from children, pets and moisture (don’t keep medication in the bathroom—there’s too much moisture in the air)
- Use a pillbox (see below) if there are multiple medications involved, especially if they need to be taken at different times of day
- Set a timer or an alarm to remind your loved one it’s time to take their medication
- Be aware of expiration dates on medications, especially inhalers and injectable medications (such insulin shots used to treat diabetes)
What to do with leftover drugs
If your loved one’s doctor stops a medication and there’s some left over, you shouldn’t save it or give it to anyone else. However, there are certain ways you can discard it safely:
- Mix it with coffee grounds or kitty litter, and then put it in a zip-top bag and dispose of it in the trash—don’t crush tablets or capsules
- Bring it to one of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Days or an authorized collector near you
Most drugs shouldn’t be flushed because of the possibility of contaminating drinking water. However, the DEA recommends flushing certain controlled substances if a take-back program isn’t available. This avoids the possibility of the extremely harmful or deadly consequences that can result if they’re taken by someone other than the patient.
Remember to take identifying information off the packaging before throwing it away.
How to organize multiple medications
You can choose from several options when organizing medications for your loved one. Getting a pillbox at your local pharmacy is an inexpensive way to handle it.
There are days-of-the week pillboxes that you can load at the beginning of the week or month, to make it easier to ensure your loved one gets all the medication necessary. Some have options for removing a single day’s worth of medication, so you can take it with you when you’re away from home. That works well if your loved one is able to independently and reliably take the right medication at the right time, or if you’re administering it.
Some pharmacies and specialty services will package medication in individual multi-pill packs, so it’s easier to take the right medications at the right time of day. That avoids the task of filling pillboxes regularly and correctly, and may offer a solution that your loved one can handle more independently.
Pricier options give you greater ability to monitor whether the medication has been taken and help prevent missed doses or overdoses. Smart medicine-bottle caps, for example, connect to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. The app sends a reminder when it’s time for the medicine to be taken and records when the bottle has been opened.
Or you can opt for an even higher-tech solution: an automated pill dispenser that notifies you when it’s time for a medication and dispenses it into a cup. Some of these systems can accommodate medication for multiple people.
We encourage you to take advantage of these tools for managing medication. Anything you think could make the situation easier and less confusing for you and your loved one is worth investigating.
Mojgan Haji and Katherine Loomer manage Fallon Health’s Safe Transitions, a medication therapy management program designed for members transitioning home after hospitalization.
What tools have helped YOU better manage your loved one’s medication? What were the biggest challenges for you? Share your ideas in the comments section below.
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