Aging Parents–New Year’s Resolution: Medication Must-Do’s

Confusion about medications.
Outdated medicines.
Dependable medication reminders.
An at-the-ready list of prescription and non-prescription drugs
:

Let’s hope our parents don’t have the first two– and do have the last two.

We make New Year’s Resolutions when we’re young. Getting our life in order is a priority for many. I’m guessing if we check with our elders, there aren’t so many resolutions made–and if they’re made they don’t include anything related to their medications. Yet taking medications as directed, when directed, would be a worthy–and possibly life-saving–resolution to help parents age well.

“When Taken As Directed Poses A Problem” was the title of a NY Times Health column several years ago. It highlights  legitimate confusion about taking medications–a head’s up to double-check with our parents that they’re doing it right. (Strategy–ask an objective question: “When you get a prescription that says ‘Take twice a day,’ do you take it every 12 hours or how? Someone asked me that question and I didn’t know how to answer it.”)

What about unused, outdated medications? A recently received email from the  National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Foundation (NABPF), calls attention to its Prescription Drug Safety Program (AWARXE) and the dangers an unmonitored medicine cabinet can pose during the holidays (think unsupervised teens home for vacation). It mentions the prevalence of out-dated, unused  medications that hide in the back of medicine cabinets.

My immediate thought: How many of us have found, in our parents’ collection of medications, some partially-empty, little plastic bottles with outdated dates–and wondered what purpose they serve. Flushing drugs down the toilet, like Mother told me her mother did, is not environmentally acceptable these days. So, along with safety information, the drug disposal site information offered should be helpful..

Thinking about these little plastic bottles, reminds me it’s a bad idea to have two look-alike pill bottles sitting side by side, especially for an older person with compromised vision. Ditto for a younger person in a hurry.

True story: Hay Fever was a big problem for me years ago. Early one spring morning I grabbed a glass of water and swallowed what I thought was my prescription allergy pill–while sneezing and running out the door to go to work–and suddenly realized I’d taken the dog’s heart worm pill. The little yellow bottles were side by side on the upper shelf in the kitchen. I had a meeting first thing and excused myself to call the doctor, who said if I didn’t start baking, not to worry (honest!). That said, it could be dangerous for elders. Prescriptions that come by mail order often come in the same looking, same size bottles with the prescription name in bold, but not very largeIs this OK for an elder with compromised vision?

Is this where dependable medication reminders, like those having plastic containers with days of the week compartments, become a must have? If more than 2 medications are involved it could be helpful, even for parents who have no problems remembering when to take them. When parents are forgetful, there are additional options for the medication reminders. Two good products that can be used as a yardstick are Philips and Guardianmentioned in a 2011 post. There are no doubt updates for those along with new options that make sense to check out.

Lastly, all of us should have an easy-to-get-to list of our parents’ and our medications– probably on our smartphones or in our wallets. Laminating the list makes it last longer. While everyone should have their list with them at all times, it’s especially important when they go for a doctor’s appointment.

In the event we’re confused by our elders’ medications, check out this helpful WebMD pill-identifier website. It displays a color picture of every medication you search, which can be even more helpful if printed out. Since dosage–along with “when,” and “with or without” food–is important, add that information if appropriate. (Some adult children tape the printout on the bottle.)

—-Additional ways we can help parents–and those we care about–age well throughout the New Year.

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