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Tips For Managing Medication

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Managing and supervising medications is an important part of caring for your aging loved one. It is important to practice safe and effective medication management to avoid errors and unwanted consequences.  


Understanding Medications: What You Need to Know

Understanding your loved one’s medications will help you supervise effectively and safely administer them. 


1. Know the names of the medications: You will need to learn the names of the medications   your loved one takes and any instructions for administering safely.

    • The names of the medication will appear on the labels. Directions for taking will be there too. And if there are major warnings there will be an added sticker.
    • Discuss prescription medications with the pharmacist when picking them up, or call the pharmacy and request to speak with the pharmacist with any questions or concerns.


2. Keep an up-to-date list of medications: It’s important to keep a complete list of your loved one’s medications. Not only is it useful for doctor’s appointments and pharmacy visits, but in an emergency, this list can be very helpful in making sure your loved one gets proper care: You can use  tools such as your RSC Care Center, which allows for medication reminders, or write it down in a notebook.  A few tips for managing your medication list: 

    • Be sure to specify any allergies 
    • Don’t forget to include over-the-counter medications (OTC) including vitamins, herbal supplements, pain relievers, laxatives, and others such as CBD, THC, etc.
    • Keep this list with you at all times and put one in your loved one’s wallet, including: 
      • Directions for time and dosage should also be kept up to date. 
      • Review the list after each doctor appointment and monthly to check for changes or updates. 


3. Know Details about Administering the Medication: Your doctor or pharmacist can provide information about the medications such as:


    • What it’s for (i.e. high B/P, heart rate, blood thinner, asthma, etc.)


    • How and when to take the medication:
      • What time
      • How many times a day
      • Day of the week medication should be taken 
      • How far apart the dose should be (i.e., 4,6, 8,12 hours
      • Before, with, or after meals
      • With food or on an empty stomach
      • Medication Schedule: 
      • Medication instructions: 


    • What you might expect the medication to do:
      • Lower blood pressure 
      • Relieve symptoms of pain, nausea, vomiting, cough, etc.
      • Make you lethargic, sleepy, dizzy, or groggy
      • What possible side effects to report
      • Adverse reactions to be aware of


4. Learn how to read medication labels: Ask the pharmacist to show you. The label will provide basic instructions such as the name and the dose, how often to take the medicine, how many pills or capsules to take or how much liquid. It will also provide information as to when/where the prescription was filled, how many refills are available or if it needs the doctor’s renewal. 

    • Always follow the directions on the label when dispensing medication.
    • If the doctor makes changes, be sure to note this directly on the label. (And date the change.)

TIP: Don’t be confused by names. Most medications will have 2 names; one for the Brand name and the other is the generic or pharmaceutical name. Both will usually appear on the label if the generic is prescribed. Newer medications may not have a generic version and they are usually more expensive.


How to setup medications

Organizing medications is a must. Two major medication errors are omission (forgetting) and taking the wrong dose. Be sure to verify with the labels when organizing medications. Don’t rely on your memory.  


1. There are many ways to organize medications including: 

    • Color coding the bottles – i.e., marking the top green as morning, red as dinner, blue as bedtime.
    • Grouping bottles that are taken at the same time
    • Make a list showing which medications are in which group and the time for taking as a double-check for your loved one
    • Pre-pouring medications into a pill box or pill dispenser with appropriate sections with snap down lids. Be sure to keep these closed to protect the medications from light, air, or moisture, and prevent spilling. Ensure your loved one can open them easily and the pills don’t get stuck 

TIP: Read the medication label and be sure you and your loved one understand it. Verify with your RSC Care Center app that this is the same instruction the healthcare provider gave. Verify with the pharmacist if you have doubts or questions. Never make an assumption that the short bottle with the blue top is what you think it is. Check the label and time schedule before taking any medication. 


2. Review with your loved one how to follow the system set up and check frequently to ensure the medications are being taken correctly. 

    • Look for empty spaces in the medication box or count the pills in the bottle.
    • If you are administering the medications, be sure they actually swallow them.
      • Pills can be easily backwashed into the cup or water bottle. 
      • Look in their mouth to be sure the medications aren’t pocketed under the tongue or in the cheeks. Seniors may spit them out later and hide them in their bed, water bottles, in a tissue or napkin, or shirt pocket. This most often occurs with dementia because they don’t understand what they’re doing with a pill or capsule. 


3. Be sure to re-order medications well before they run out.

    • Mail-order pharmacies can take up to 7-10 days to get the medications to you, plus any post office delays. Retail pharmacies might need a few days also if they don’t have the medication in stock. 

TIP: Ask pharmacist about auto-fill. This is a convenient way to make sure mail-order medications are automatically sent according to current frequency and dosage orders.  Check with your retail pharmacy about possible auto-fill options for recurring medications.  Make sure you delete this option for any mail-order medication that has been discontinued or changed. You cannot return medications sent in error. 

    • Medications can be managed online through the mail-order site or on your phone through a retail pharmacy app. Check that you get a confirmation text or email and if not, call the pharmacy to check on the status. 


Common Medication Errors

When loved ones see several different doctors, the possibility of medication errors increases. It’s vital to provide each physician with a complete and up-to-date medication list at each visit. The primary physician should review any updates or changes at each visit as part of his/her assessment. To avoid medication errors:


1.  Use ONE pharmacy to fill all prescriptions: (TWO if you need one for retail and one for mail-order.) This way any duplications or contraindications will be flagged by the pharmacist. Not all chemicals in the medications are compatible. And sometimes they require taking hours apart. 


2. Get Information on New Medications: For any new medications, be sure you get the name of the medication and instructions from the doctor. That way you can be assured that you receive the correct medication from the pharmacy. 


3. Ask questions:

    • When and how much of this medication do you take? 
    • How long will you take this medication? (a few days or forever?)
    • What to do if you forget to take it?
    • Does the medication require refrigeration? 
    • Any foods (i.e., dairy products), alcohol, or activities (i.e., Driving) to avoid?


4. Understanding what the medication is for and how it acts will improve compliance. 


5. Be sure to add or remove medications immediately from your organization setup when the physician makes changes: Wait a couple of weeks to try new meds and see how they work before you discard old medications.


TIP: Always keep medications in their original container with the label intact. (It is recommended that you only fill a medication organizer box with one week of medications.) Medications can be damaged by heat, light, and moisture. The worst place to store them is in the bathroom due to the moisture. A dresser drawer, a closet or kitchen cabinet away from the stove are preferred locations for storage. 


Is It Ok To Take Multiple Medications At Once?

There are several risks to be aware of when your loved one is taking multiple medications:

  • They are more likely to have side effects

  • They may be at risk for drug interactions: always check with their medical professionals about possible drug interactions 

  • It can become more difficult for them to keep track when taking each medicine. Be sure to implement a system to manage their medications


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