Medication management is critical to a senior’s welfare

Right at Home John Headshot (2) (Small)By John Baldwin, FLTN Columnist- Grandma’s arthritic fingers struggle to grasp the tiny prescription pills, so she frequently drops them on the floor. Sometimes Grandma decides just not to bother with her medications at all. Dad cuts his daily blood pressure tablets in half to save money. Some days Mom forgets to take her diabetes and cholesterol medications. If she’s not sure whether she took them, she’ll take an extra of each the next day to “catch up.”

The wrong medications. The wrong dosage. The wrong timing. Any of these scenarios of skipped medications or taking too much or too little can cause medical complications or even death. The nation’s seniors are particularly at risk for medication-related difficulties. Some healthcare experts rank medication problems among the top five causes of death for people over age 65 and as a source of confusion, falls and loss of independence.

In a 2013 report on aging and health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, “More than a quarter of all Americans and two of three older Americans have multiple chronic conditions, and treatment for this population accounts for 66 percent of the country’s healthcare budget … People with multiple chronic conditions face an increased risk of conflicting medical advice, adverse drug effects, unnecessary and duplicative tests, and avoidable hospitalizations, all of which can further endanger their health.”

The more medications a person takes, the greater likelihood of adverse drug interactions or a mix-up in dosages. A nurses’ handbook available on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website states that seniors discharged from the hospital on more than five drugs are more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within six months after discharge.

Medication-related ER trips and hospitalizations also occur because the elderly absorb medicines at a different rate than when they were younger. Drugs taken with certain foods and liquids also can affect absorption and side effects. Staying ahead of complications from medications truly becomes a first line of defense for patients and their caregivers.

Properly managing medications is crucial for every individual, especially those with multiple health conditions, and the elderly pose an increased challenge. This is why we at Right at Home train our adult home care providers specifically on monitoring medications. We help ensure older adults stay healthy and relieve family members of the worry of making sure their loved one takes their medications.

Some common medication problems and prevention tips for older adults:

  • Trouble Reading Labels – For seniors with diminished eyesight, ask the pharmacist for large-print labels and instructions.
  • Memory Impairment – Elders who have dementia and other cognitive issues need specific reminders for timing and dosages. Use standard pill box organizers or electronic ones with timers and rescue alerts, or seek assistance from in-home care professionals like Right at Home.
  • Financial Limitations – Some seniors on tight budgets will cut prescribed medications in half or skip doses to save money. Generic brands and 90-day supplies help reduce medication costs, and for those who meet income requirements, prescription assistance programs can help. In addition, people on Medicare and U.S. military veterans also may qualify for lower-cost medications.
  • Swallowing Difficulties – Asking for liquid forms of medications can ease swallowing challenges. Never score, crush, chew or mix medications in liquids without first checking with the pharmacist.
  • Improper Storage – Certain medications require refrigeration (insulin, eye drops, etc.). Also, exposure to extreme temperatures can alter the effectiveness of the medication or cause side effects.

Successful medication teamwork involves seniors and their family caregivers informing every healthcare provider of all medications, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements the senior is taking. It’s also essential to ask:

  • What is the purpose of this medication?
  • When and how often should I use this drug?
  • What are the main side effects that could bother me?
  • Will this medication interact with my other medications, supplements or vitamins?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Is there a generic, lower-cost brand available and does it work the same?

For additional help to prevent medication errors, the Administration on Aging offers innovative resources and a comprehensive list of prescription-related questions to ask doctors and pharmacists. The key in safeguarding seniors’ drug usage is for all parties involved to be aware of any medication concerns before a mix-up or mishap occurs.

The Perrysburg office of Right at Home is a locally owned and operated franchise office of Right at Home, Inc., serving the communities of Wood, Lucas and Sandusky counties. For more information, contact Right at Home of Perrysburg, Ohio at, 567-336-6062 or by email at