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Medications and the Elderly


Aging is complicated.  Not only is it full of difficulties that we can't control, it also contains difficulties, like medications, which we can control, but which are nearly impossible to understand!  So how can we help the elderly in our lives to navigate this new, complex path in a safe manner so that they are getting the benefits of the medications that they’re taking without the dangers that come from mixing, under-dosing or over-dosing?

  1. Large print.  Ask your pharmacy if they provide copies of the medication information in large print so that your family member can see what they’re taking.  If they do not do this, consider typing up a large print version on your computer…just make sure you’re meticulous.  They need to be able to have access to the information that goes with the medicine that they’re taking.  Include the full name, and information about dosage, times per day, whether it’s to be taken with or without food & the pharmacy that they need to call if they have questions.  If it’s their first time on the medicine, make sure that they are aware of possible side effects & who they need to call if they experience them.
  2. Have them tell the pharmacist the other medications that they are on & ask if there are any adverse drug interactions. Ideally, the doctor that they go to will already have addressed this issue, but sometimes this information falls through the cracks.  The pharmacist should be able to tell them whether the medicines they are on are safe together.  If they are unable to advocate for themselves, or if they’re unable to remember all the names of the medications, be there with them & advocate on their behalf.
  3. Set up a system. Help them make a chart for the wall that tells which medicines should be taken when, & with what so that they always have the information handy.  Make it large & easy to understand.  Consider color coding it with the colors of the pills that they’ll be taking.
  4. Separate the pill boxes & mark them clearly. Help them to fill the pill boxes.  Label the boxes, for instance: “AM, without food”; “With Breakfast”; “With Lunch”; “With Dinner”; “Bedtime”.  Make it easy to understand & also use large print on each of the boxes so that they can grab them without question.
  5. Use easy to open boxes. Some of them are complicated, especially if your loved one has arthritis.  Do not make it difficult for them, or it will be less likely that they take them, and it may be at a time when they really need to be taking them the most.
  6. Post the phone numbers for the doctor, pharmacy, & any emergency contacts that they have in an easy access place so that they have the information they need in case they need to call about anything.

Above all, make sure that your visits with your loved one are about more than just their medications.  Draw them out in conversation.  They’ll be more likely to talk to you about times that they’re not feeling well if you have a closer relationship with you.  This will be helpful to you if you are advocating for them.  You can give their doctor the information that he/she needs in the event that your loved one is reserved about speaking up about their physical state.  It may seem strange to some of us, but it is all to common in the elderly to “battle through” instead of just speaking up about a condition that may be very easy to solve.  Be sure that they know that there are people who care & for whom their health is not a bother.  This will go a long way in getting them the very best of care & provide the best possible health for them along the way!

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