Caring for an aging parent can be overwhelming. Between ensuring their home is safe, they are getting proper nutrition and ensuring that they are able to get to their appointments, it can be easy to make a simple medical mistake.
Whether you give them the wrong medication, or serve up medication with citrus or dairy, when you’re not supposed to, or do something worse, it can be incredibly stressful and difficult to keep up with medical care. After all, it is likely that you aren’t a doctor or nurse, so this isn’t your area of expertise.
Your first priority is to set aside a bit of time to get organized.
- Make a list of prescriptions and any special instructions, such as how many times per day, take with food, don’t take with food, avoid dairy, etc. Be sure to include supplements. They can also interact with medication. I have a free prescription tracker file that I am sharing with all newsletter subscribers.
- Make a list of medical conditions and contact information for doctors, pharmacies, specialists, etc. You can download my free family medical file to get you started.
- If you do not live with your parent, be sure to keep a copy of the medical information in an easy-to-access location so that your parent, other family members and caregivers can access information easily.
No matter how great your parent’s physician is, they can make mistakes, or prescribe medication no longer needed. Be an informed caregiver and/or patient to be sure no one is over-medicated.
- Have a regular check-in with your parent’s doctor to be sure that medication is still relevant. Perhaps they’ve started a new medication that also addresses a condition they have a different prescription for, or maybe a condition has resolved itself.
- Check with your doctor or pharmacist for possible drug interactions. Don’t assume someone is watching for this. Be proactive and ask.
- Create a system to make sure your parent is taking their medication. You can use a pill organizer of they have few simple prescriptions that don’t require additional reminders (like take with food, take with water, no dairy, etc.). If they have multiple, complicated prescriptions that need to be taken at specific times or have special instructions, you can consider creating a checklist and putting it inside a sheet protector so they can check off when they take it with a dry erase marker.
- Remind your parent to double check the medication prior to taking it to be sure they are taking the correct one – particularly if they have multiple prescriptions.
General Medication Safety:
- Don’t store medication in bathrooms or in direct sunlight. Heat and humidity can alter the potency.
- Ask your doctor to write the purpose of the medication on the prescription. Many prescription names are similar and the pharmacist may not be able to read your doctor’s writing. You should also double check the prescription when you pick it up to be sure the pharmacy filled it correctly. Consider taking a picture of the prescription before handing it over so that you can track it better.
- Check here for medications that should not be crushed or chewed. It can affect the medication’s potency or the medication’s time release function.
- Take medication as prescribed and don’t stop taking it because you feel better without discussing it first with your doctor. Some medications require weaning. You don’t want to do this without your doctor’s help. I take a medication that requires weaning. The other day, I completely forgot to take it. Four hours later, I was in Target, sweating profusely, shaking and my heart was racing. I thought I was having a heart attack. When I got home, I realized I forgot to take my medication. Big lesson learned. Trust me, you don’t want to learn that lesson.
It may not seem like a big deal, but prescription errors can cause major health problems. Don’t rely on your parent’s doctor or pharmacist to ensure their safety. Take a few steps to keep their prescriptions safe.