So Many Drugs! How To Handle Medication Reminders And Administration
How will mom ever keep all of these straight?!? This question gets asked all the time, every day. You are not alone in this struggle.
Medication administration, or for us simple folks, taking the right pills at the right time, is one of the greatest struggles when staying at home alone. There is no simple way to stay on top of this challenge and yet it can have great repercussions when mismanaged.
Let me first give just a brief background on medications and the challenges you and your loved one face.
According to a study by Consumer Reports in April of 2017, 53% of people take medications that are prescribed by more than one healthcare provider. For people over 55 years old, over a third of them take 5 or more prescribed drugs. 9% were taking 10 or more drugs. (Consumer Reports)
Let’s break that down. First off, if you are seeing more than one Doctor, how do they each know what the other is prescribing? It is your responsibility to make sure they do! Do not trust the computer system to give the updated information regarding current prescriptions!
Take a list of current meds with you to each doctor you go to. This will help prevent prescribing medications that do not ‘get along’ with each other. A simple way to track this is to put a note in your phone in a web based cloud app, such as Google Docs. Note the drug name, the correct dosage, and the prescribing physician. This way you always have this information available.
When you or a caregiver take your loved one to the doctor, simply pull this app up and give it to the doctor. This simple step can save months of unbelievable frustration and prevent meds from being prescribed that should not be.
The Support System
The second point above mentions that a third of people over the age of 55 take five or more prescribed medications. 9% of people over this age take 10 or more! Are you serious? How can anyone possible remember when to take what drug and how many to take?
This is where a support system is absolutely critical when managing meds. You must stay on top of what is being prescribed and monitor the administration of the drugs. If you do not help manage this, there will be problems that arise without fail.
It is highly recommended to document all medication doses and times that they are taken. Is all you have to do is ask dad to write this down each time he takes a pill. Too much too ask? OF COURSE IT IS! You know as well as I do that dad will do what dad wants to do! He is not going to write down every drug he takes and the time he takes it! In theory this sounds great; in reality this is rare.
When a loved one is in a facility, you receive peace of mind from knowing they are managing mom or dad’s meds. That works great for those living in a facility. The problem with dad is this: he refuses to leave his home! He will not be going into a facility anytime soon and if you try to insist differently, good luck!
You and I both know that he is more than capable of staying at home on his own. He does however need a little extra assistance. Managing his meds is one of those areas that a little extra help is critical. There is no way he will be able to do this on his own.
Tricks of The Trade!
So you ask, you can I possibly manage dad’s medications and stay on top of all of them? I can’t go to his house every day and make sure the correct meds are being taken! Of course you can’t. However, here are some things to consider to help in monitoring the situation.
As we go through the different solutions, we will work from smaller to larger in terms of need. We will start with the simpler solutions and move to the more advanced.
Who’s In Charge?!?
First thing you need to know as you decide on a game plan to manage the meds is how involved will you be? Will you be able to come over daily, weekly, monthly? If you are not able to personally, who will be able to come in your place?
If you live out of town, there are additional challenges to managing medications for mom or dad than compared to living five minutes away. You can either hire a professional company to manage your loved-one’s meds or you can hire someone privately.
There are agencies that provide nurses that can come set up meds. Generally speaking, with most states, medication administration must be handled by a healthcare professional such as an Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or higher qualification.
Some states do allow for Medication Aides to set up meds in the home. Each state is different in their laws and regulations. You will need to establish what level of caregiver you need to use for setting up either a weekly pill organizer or monthly pill dispenser.
If you are paying someone privately to do this or have a family member that can do it, that generally works as well as anything. The critical point here is to have one primary contact that will be responsible for setting up mom or dad’s drugs.
I Can Do This!
A pill box or pill organizer. This is easy enough. Pill cases can be small enough to hold just one dose and they can range from 7 day to 30 day. So, the first thing you need to determine is how often you or someone else whom you decide on, will be able to come over and ‘set-up’ the meds.
In addition to how often someone will be coming, the other consideration has to be how many pills are being set up? If dad is responsible for taking 15 pills a day, there are challenges in setting up more than one week at a time.
A simple but effective solution for managing a few pills a day is just a simple, small pill box. If you are having someone come over at least once a week, then there are plenty of options in this arena. Something similar to this pill box from Amazon should work well. Another option if you are managing multiple meds a day would be this. Amazon has a large selection of pill boxes to meet your needs. If you are looking for a simple medicine organizer, you probably want to get one that has at least 2 compartments for each day, a morning and an evening. One pill a day boxes work just fine, but the reality of only being on one pill a day is slim. You want to make sure you have something that can be simple to manage for multiple pills a day.
If you are looking for a pill organizer to handle a monthly setup, then you may want to consider a medicine organizer such as this. Amazon sells this unit for a very reasonable cost of around $35.00 and it’s hard to beat. It is easy to use, offers multiple pills a day and at a glance you can see if any days were missed. This works well for most medication needs and is highly recommended and highly reviewed.
Caregiver Or No Caregiver?
If you are fortunate enough to have a caregiver on a regular basis, then managing the medications becomes a lot easier. Keep in mind, that if using a professional agency for home care services, it is not uncommon for the caregiver to NOT be able to administer medications. Generally speaking, a caregiver can give a reminder to someone to take their medication but they cannot go to a pill bottle and get the medication out to take.
If you are using an agency or a caregiver, it is a good idea to set the meds up ahead of time with a pill container similar to above. This cuts down on the chance of mistakes to be made by the caregiver. It is best if you have someone set up the pill box and then just have the caregiver go to the container to remind your mom or dad about their pills.
Another thing to note when using a caregiver, I would absolutely have them document all of their medication administration in some sort of care-log. Keep a notebook next to the meds and each time they remind your mom to take her meds, write down what was taken and when. This helps tremendously with keeping people accountable with medications. Check out our article on Essentials of Home Care.
for all types of ideas for things to have on hand for a caregiver.
Dad’s All Alone!
Okay, so you do not have a caregiver to make sure the meds are being taken and the simple pill organizer just doesn’t cut it. That’s okay! There are tools to assist with this scenario as well. There are services that can call and remind dad to take his pills at designated times during the day and there are also electronic medication dispensing machines to assist with this. For the sake of this discussion we will talk about the electronic pill dispenser.
Isn’t Technology Great!
The advantages to using an electronic medication machine are several. To start the process, an alarm usually sounds and mom or dad have to go to the machine to shut the alarm off. At this time, they take the pills that have been distributed and the machine then resets until the next time comes up for the next dose.
If the alarm is not acknowledged, there are notifications that can be sent to people you designate via text message, email, etc. to alert them that mom or dad has not taken their prescribed dosage. This is a very effective way of managing medications when not in the house with your loved one.
Electronic pill machines will become more and more common as time moves on. There is a very logical reason for this. The largest challenge by far for people to remain in their home alone is medication administration. If the medications are being taken correctly, things can run smoothly. As soon as the meds start being mismanaged, problems can start to creep in.
Facility Based Living Or Staying At Home?
Think about this for just a second. Facility based care usually has a nurse on staff that oversees all of the caregivers. These caregivers, often times Medication Aides, handle all of the administration of medications for the residents that live there. The staff is responsible for making sure mom or dad is taking all of their prescribed drugs.
That works great! There are no meds that are being forgotten about, there is documentation of the meds being given, and you have the peace of mind knowing that a Registered Nurse is overseeing the medications your loved one is taking.
There is just one problem to the above scenario. Mom absolutely refuses to leave her home! There is no way I can talk her into moving into a facility just so I can be sure she is taking her meds!
That is where an electronic pill dispenser comes into play perfectly. These machines cost start at a couple hundred bucks on up. You will find our comparison of 3 of the more popular machines here. (LINK) All of these machines can be purchased on Amazon as well as reading other reviews on them.
The last advantage to be discussed on the electronic machines is one that unfortunately needs to be mentioned. Theft prevention. In this day and age, theft of medications is a huge concern. Caregivers often have access to medications and the temptation can be too great.
When using an electronic medication machine, theft prevention is aided tremendously. The medication is locked inside the machine and not accessible without the key. This allows you to keep the pills out of reach of caregivers and you can more easily monitor the quantities of meds on hand.
Medications are not cheap. In fact, on the contrary. By keeping these highly valuable drugs locked up you eliminate possible theft inside mom or dad’s home. There are plenty of other things to worry about and removing the potential for meds to be stolen is a welcome relief.
We all want to trust our loved-one’s caregivers. There is no more difficult task than needing to approach someone because you suspect they may be stealing. With the option that an electronic medication dispenser brings, this helps with keeping the temptation away in relation to the medications.