Medication management for your loved one’s treatment comes in all shapes and sizes, so to speak. But one thing is consistent: it is crucial to administer the right medications at the right time. While this may sound like stating the obvious, given the type and number of pills (or any form of drug), the care recipient’s condition and the caregiver’s level of exhaustion or stress, safe and proper administration requires deliberate care and attention.
After our dear father had a heart attack about 20 years ago, he had to continue taking about 3-4 pills every day. He kept his bottles in one place and knew to take them before he left for work. When he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma 4 years ago, he increased his daily pills to about 14. Still living at home with our mother, both of them found it difficult to keep track of the pills taken, the time taken, and which ones still needed to be taken before the end of the day. To resolve this, my sister bought a large pill box, which she labeled with times, pill names & descriptions. On Sunday, she filled the small compartments with pills for the entire week. This worked perfectly and allowed our father to continue to take care of himself safely – with Mom and sister monitoring just to be sure!
When my husband became ill with CRPS almost 4 years ago, his medications slowly increased to the 22 daily pills, 2 eye drops, 1 spray & 2 pain patches every other day that he takes today. I could not remember every pill name, dosage, and time to take it on my own! I thought of my father’s pill box and looked for one to label as my sister had done. Although many pill boxes are sold in stores, I couldn’t find one that had the right number of compartments or labels that suited my husband’s schedule. So I went to the sewing notions department of a local store and got a box from there! The clear box lets you see right away which pills have been taken and which ones still need to be taken without opening it, a simple but painful task for my husband.
I have listed below some tips that have worked for us, as well as some links that have more suggestions for effectively administering medications. Some websites even have tips that help vision-impaired persons safely store and use their medications! Remember to also ask your doctors for any advice on how to stay on top of your medication management.
Medication management tips:
- Tell the doctor about all the medications your caree is already taking before starting a new one. Some drugs are not compatible or they may tax your heart, liver, kidneys or other organs.
- Ask the doctor what medications need to be taken and when.
- Ask the doctor or pharmacist if multiple medications can be taken together or if they must be taken separately. Some medications interfere with each other when taken at the same time or too close together.
- Ask whether meds can be taken only with water or if they can be taken with other liquids.
- Ask whether meds must be taken with or without food, or on an empty stomach.
- Ask if any foods or drinks should be avoided while on those medications. Many meds require that you stay away from grapefruit juice.
- Ask for symptoms of adverse reactions to the meds and what to do.
- Ask how long to wait to see if a drug is working. The doctor may need to change the medication or alter the dosage if it’s not helping or if it’s giving the patient uncomfortable side effects.
- Consider whether the care recipient is able to manage taking medications safely. If he or she is forgetful or confused, it would be best to let the caregiver handle this.
- Pill boxes can be used to lay out all the pills for a day or week. Label each compartment with time to be taken. Make sure that the caree can easily see and take out the pills.
- Keep a log of all medications taken, dosage, time to be taken, prescribing doctor, date meds started & what the meds are for.
- Set alarms for the time that meds need to be taken. I use my cell phone, which is always with me, to remind me to give my husband a pill that needs to be kept in the refrigerator. He sets his alarms for the remainder of the day.
- If it’s safe to do so, keep the pill box next to the caree so pills are handy at all times. Of course, if your loved one gets confused or has difficulty holding things, this wouldn’t be a good idea.
- Order refills 1-2 days early to be sure you have them when you really need them. (A couple of times, the pharmacy didn’t have the meds in-store, so I picked them up at another branch. I no longer wait until the last day to get refills!) Insurance will usually pay for the prescription up to 1 week before the pills run out.
- Organize the meds in a way that makes sense to you, the caregiver.
- Tell a trusted friend or relative where the medications are kept in case you cannot be there.
- For vision-impaired patients, the links below provide bottles with special labels.
Please visit the websites below for more information and suggestions to effectively manage medications.