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Posted: September 27, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Keeping It All Straight -- Meds, That Is

As a family caregiver, you want to make sure your loved one gets the right medicine at the correct time. Whether your loved one is living in their own home or with you, it seems to be your responsibility to make sure that happens. How can you avoid situations where you are so busy that you forget to give medications as required?

Even though there will be times when it is difficult for a caregiver to remember everything, it is possible to develop a workable plan to ensure that your loved one gets the right medicine at the right time. This plan will also give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are giving your loved one the best care possible.

First of all, gather all the prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal supplements and anything else your loved one takes. Make a list of the names, dosages, how often they are to be taken, and who prescribed the medicine or told your loved one to take it, in the case of over-the-counter aids. As you do this, start to become familiar with the name, size, color and shape of each pill.

The next thing you should do is run the list by the pharmacist and doctor to verify there are no negative interactions from taking the range of medicines. If your loved one sees more than one doctor or buys from more than one pharmacy, run the list past all the doctors or pharmacies. Some medicines should not be given with other medicines, vitamins or herbal products because they create a bad reaction -- or interaction. Also, some medical conditions may increase the risk of adverse effects of herbal products. It is very important to double check these interactions.

Also, ask if your loved one's allergies will react to any of the medicines, vitamins or herbal supplements. Find out why your loved one is taking each medicine and what it is supposed to do. Also, ask if you need to monitor anything such as blood pressure or sugar levels.

Be sure to write everything down while you are talking to the doctor or pharmacist. Verify what you wrote down with the doctor or pharmacist because you may not have understood something correctly. You will find that if you don't write it down at the time, you won't remember everything you need to know.

When you talk to the doctor, be sure to ask about any potential adverse reactions you should be aware of. If your loved one is taking an antibiotic or other medicine for an illness, ask how long it will be before you should see improvement? Ask when you should call the doctor or rush your loved one to the hospital. Knowing when to do certain things will help prevent you from both over-reacting and not reacting quickly enough.

Now you are ready to come up with a plan to make sure your loved one gets each medicine at the correct time. When an elderly person gives themselves medicines, overdosing or under-dosing are common problems. These can lead to other problems, even life threatening problems at times. It's very important to take the right amount of medicine at the right time.

Don't depend on your memory. At first it might be easy to remember when to give your loved one their medicine, but as time goes on it will be too easy to forget.

Make three lists. The first list should contain the name of the medicine, strength, when it is to be taken and who prescribed it. You might want to add any allergies your loved one has. Carry this with you at all times. If you need to take your loved one to the hospital, they will need that information.

The second list should include the name of the medicine, when it is to be taken, any side affects, what to do if a dose is missed, how the medicines are to be stored and a short description of how each medicine is taken. Some pills may need to be placed under the tongue. Some may need to be crushed and given in applesauce. Some should be taken with food and some without. (When Mom needed a pill under her tongue to relieve heart pains, her mouth was quite often very dry and the pill wouldn't dissolve. I found that if I put a little water under her tongue the pill would dissolve.)

Write down anything that affects your loved one's ability to take medicines, such as choking easily or trouble swallowing. Put this list on the refrigerator or a bulletin board where it can be easily found. If you should happen to become ill and unable to give your loved one his medicine, your directions will help another person give him the medicines he needs.

The third list should be in columns. The first column gives the times the medicines are to be taken arranged by time, starting in the morning. The second column on the right gives the name of the medicine by each time it is to be taken that day. The third column on the right is for writing a check mark when the medicine is given. You can add more columns on the right for check marks for more days without rewriting the complete list. When you give a medicine, check it off. Do not check it off if you are going to give it in 15 minutes and do no check it off if you gave it 15 minutes before. Check it off when you get the water and take the pill out of the box to give it to your loved one at that time.

Don't get anything ready before it's time to give the medicines. Keep this list and a pencil with the medicines to be given each day. This procedure will ensure that you give the medicine at the correct time and it will also give you peace of mind because you know you are giving the right medicine at the right time. You have a record you can review if you have a question.

Now you are ready to make sure your loved one gets the medicines he needs. Buy a seven-day pillbox or mark paper cups with each day of the week and times of the day. Once a week, separate the pills into the box to make sure nothing is accidentally missed. Try not to completely empty the pill bottles until you recognize each pill. If different pills look alike, keep them separate.

You might want to put a piece of paper in the pillbox with the name of the pill on it so you won't forget to give that medicine. If your loved one is still living alone, there are medicine dispensing machines that won't let your loved one take their pills early, and will even call you if a medicine is missed.

Let your family or your loved one's neighbors know where the lists and medicines are. If your loved one goes outside to pick up the newspaper and falls, their neighbors might be the ones to call the ambulance. Ambulance drivers need the list of medicines and doctors. Some people and some communities handle this by encouraging the elderly and their caregivers to keep a list of meds in mason jars that are kept in the refrigerator. That way emergency help knows where to look for the meds list.

There are a couple more things you need to consider. When you get a prescription filled, check the medicine before you drive off to make sure it is correct. Remember that a doctor's handwriting is often very difficult to read and mistakes do happen. When a medicine is no longer needed, remove it from the medicines your loved one is currently taking. Dispose of it or move it to a different room. Don't take a chance of giving it to your loved one again.

For more information on proper handling of medicines, read the feature we ran in The Caregiver's Home Companion newsletter in October 2003.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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