Medication Management: Risks & Safeguards
During his most recent stay in a rehab center, it was determined that all of my dad’s pill would have to be crushed and mixed with something like applesauce or pudding before swallowing. At age 94, tests showed that because his throat muscles were too weak, pills he swallowed whole didn’t make it to his stomach. They sat in his esophagus where they caused damage to the lining and didn’t provide the intended benefits. This is something he will have to do for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he already had a home health nurse who came in daily to administer his insulin and divide up his prescription medications into a 7-day pill box that has compartments for morning, noon and night. She was willing to add crushing the pills to her responsibilities. (Some medications are not safe to take in crushed form. Be sure to check with your physician before crushing pills to make them easier to swallow or mixing them with the food of a person who refuses to take them otherwise.)
Unfortunately, there are many ways that medications can be improperly used:
- Taking the wrong dosage, for example, increasing or decreasing the amount without a doctor’s orders
- Forgetting to take one or more medications, or forgetting you have taken a pill and then taking it again, thus overdosing
- Taking pills with food or drink that lessen their effectiveness, for example, some pills should not be taken with dairy products or with grapefruit
- Not following instructions to take pills with food, before eating or with a full glass of water
- Taking medication at the wrong time of day, for example, taking a bedtime pill in the morning, causing drowsiness at the wrong time of day
- Taking medications together when doing so can cause dangerous side-effects
Helping those who can’t help themselves
Dakota Travel Nurse Home Care provides nursing services for medication setup and medication administration. Medicare will usually pay for this service in elderly patients. Check with your insurance provider to see if you or our loved one qualifies for this important safeguard. Peace of mind is often worth any price. You may be pleasantly surprised at how little such service costs.
Sometimes a family member can administer the proper medication at the right time, or at least organize pills into marked containers on a weekly basis. Some pill boxes come with clocks and alarms that remind the patient or caregiver that it is time to take medications. One example is from Sanford Health Healthcare Accessories. They make a Weekly Pill Turtle with a reminder clock. You can also find medication tracking charts on the Internet that can be printed and used at home. But someone has to remember to mark the chart!
Managing health supplements
The elderly are especially vulnerable to catalogue and phone sales of health supplements that have not been FDA approved, and may either be worthless or may interact in a negative way with prescribed medications. Anyone who wants a quick fix to not feeling as well as they would like to might be tempted to take a pill that promises to make you feel younger, stronger, smarter or pain-free! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Be sure to check with your physician before taking any over-the-counter medications. Even aspirin and Ibuprofen can be harmful when certain conditions are present.
Take a list with you
Another way to ensure that your medications won’t be mismanaged, even by healthcare providers, is to keep a list of everything you take, prescribed or over-the-counter, in your wallet or purse at all times. Give one to anyone who is likely to accompany you to the hospital in times of emergency. If you can’t remember all the medications you take or are unconscious and can’t speak, this list will keep medical personnel from making dangerous mistakes or from being unable to prescribe a much-needed drug because they don’t know what you have already taken that day. It will also save time when filling out medical forms to have the list and correct dosage when visiting a doctor. I carry a list of my own medications, my husband’s and my father’s in my wallet with me at all times.
Taking medications correctly is an important aspect of treatment for any illness. It’s important that anyone who is on multiple medications have a plan and a caregiver or family member who can help them keep it all straight!
If you or a loved one needs help with medication management, don’t hesitate to call DTN Home Care at 701.663.5373 for a free consultation.
by Marti Lythgoe, DTN Home Care Writer & Editor