Adults over the age of 65 use more prescription and over-the-counter medications than any other age group. Chronic illnesses, more frequent injuries, weaker immune systems and other physical conditions all contribute to high levels of medication use in seniors. While it’s beneficial to live in an age of medical advancements, medication use can cause serious problems if not handled safely. The risk for misuse increases when a senior is living with a memory impairment like dementia.
Lonette Bentley, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care assisted living community in Pensacola, Florida, says, “According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, approximately a third of older adults visit the emergency room each year due to adverse effects from their medications. Caregivers of loved ones with dementia need to be especially cautious and well-educated about the medications they use in order to avoid threats to their well-being.”
Whether you are entirely responsible for your loved one’s medication management or simply help cue them throughout the day, learning the risks of medication misuse can keep you aware and alert as you care for your loved one.
Prescription Use and Potential Harm
The senior population is at a higher risk of medication-related problems due to the natural changes that occur as we age. For example:
- Decreased liver and kidney function can affect how well medications are absorbed and filtered through the body
- Weight changes can make it difficult to determine the proper dosage
- Other health conditions can interact with drugs
- Vision loss can lead to accidental misuse
- Memory loss and dementia can cause a loved one to forget they’ve taken pills, only to “retake” their prescriptions and potentially overdose
In addition, there are some medications that are not suitable for seniors because the risks of experiencing serious side effects, overdosing or becoming dependent on a drug are too high for to be considered safe. The American Geriatrics Society’s Beers Criteria lists all the potentially dangerous drugs for seniors.
Caring for a Loved One’s Medications
If your loved one takes prescription medication or over-the-counter pills, it’s important to make sure those life-enhancing medications don’t cause any other problems. With extra care, attention and open conversations with their doctor, you can take proactive steps toward your loved one’s best health.
Side Effects – Although medications are meant to help or heal an illness or health condition, they can also cause other changes in the body. Possible side effects of a drug should always be discussed when your loved one is prescribed a new medication. Talk to their doctor or pharmacist about what possible side effects could occur, and pay attention for any changes in their health once they start taking the medication. In some cases, strong medications can cause serious side effects, so always call the doctor if you notice anything concerning.
Of the prescription medications approved for treating Alzheimer’s symptoms, possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, increased frequency of bowel movements, headaches, constipation, confusion or dizziness. While none of these are life threatening by themselves, they can diminish your loved one’s quality of life if left unacknowledged.
Drug Interactions – If your loved one is taking more than one medication, they could be at risk of complications from drug interactions. Certain combinations of medications, such as aspirin and blood thinners, could be dangerous for their health. Drugs can also interact with another medical condition they have and potentially cause harm. Additionally, certain drugs interact with food to slow the absorption of the medication, as well as with alcohol, which could cause dizziness, fatigue or slowed reactions.
Additional Tips for Safe Medication Use
- Your loved one should always take medications as prescribed by their doctor. Be careful they don’t skip doses or stop taking prescriptions unless they are told to do so by a health professional.
- If your loved one has trouble remembering to take pills, try using some memory tools, such as a calendar for prescriptions or a pill box. Use a pill box to sort out your loved one’s medications for the week. You can also ask their doctor if there is a simpler way to take medications (e.g., one higher-dose pill a day instead of four lower-dose pills).
- If your loved one has trouble swallowing pills, ask the doctor if the medication they are taking is available as a liquid, or if it’s possible to crush or chew the pills instead.
- Keep a list of all the medications your loved one takes, including occasional over-the-counter pills such as antihistamines, pain relievers, decongestants and laxatives, vitamins and supplements and past prescriptions. Take this list to the doctor’s, and keep it in your purse or wallet in case of emergencies.
- If the costs of medications tempt you to cut pills, skip doses or refrain from taking the medication you or a loved one needs to stay well, talk to your doctor about less expensive options and research organizations that help seniors defray prescription costs.
A Trusted Partner in Care
“Since most seniors diagnosed with dementia are prescribed at least one medication by their doctor, managing prescriptions and their pharmaceutical treatments is a major responsibility for family caregivers,” says Bentley. “And because the risks for harm are so high, medication management should be near the top of every caregiver’s list of priorities. If you must limit your loved one’s independence in some way, this is the area to do so.”
As with most aspects of caring for someone with dementia, managing their medications and getting information from their doctors can be challenging. “We understand the stress that caregivers go through,” Bentley says. “At Clarity Pointe, we try to reduce that stress by devoting ourselves to helping family caregivers in any way we can. If you need help taking care of your loved one’s prescriptions or need advice on medication safety, our team of trained experts is happy to assist you.”
To learn more about Clarity Pointe Pensacola and the services they provide, call today.
Clarity Pointe™ … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.