• Mayo Clinic Q and A: Managing medication for loved ones 

Hands of woman putting pills into pill box

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My elderly mom has recently been told she needs to take a bunch of different medications every day due to her health conditions. It's gotten pretty overwhelming, and I'm worried about things like her missing doses or drug interactions. I just want to make sure she's safe and healthy. Do you have tips on how to handle my mom's meds?

ANSWER: Some older people struggle with remembering to take their medications or organizing them effectively. Adult children, like yourself, can help by taking steps to monitor and update medication lists. Doing this can help prevent potential health complications, while also providing peace of mind for both you and your mom.

The most common medication-related problems in older adults include taking too high or too low of a dose, taking unnecessary medications, not taking medication as directed or at all, taking an ineffective medication, or adverse drug reactions such as confusion, bleeding and oversedation.

In addition, certain medications require special monitoring. Medications used to control pain, anxiety, mood and sleep pose the largest risk for patients as they age. Medications for blood pressure and diabetes also can be problematic if they are not monitored closely and adjusted as health conditions change. 

Every person's medication needs are different. The risk for medication-related problems increases with each medication that is added. If your mom takes four or more medications, she has a higher risk for medication-related problems especially falls. 

Here are six tips for helping your mom with her medications:

  • Gather information about the medications she uses.
    Get your mother's up-to-date medication lists from her healthcare team. Make sure that this list matches the prescription containers in her home. Then talk through each medication so both of you fully understand what it is taken for, how often and at what dose.
  • Contact the pharmacy about available medication management services.
    Many pharmacies offer individual dose, or compliance packaging, options. This is a low-cost way to help patients better manage daily medications and it offers a way for family members to double-check on doses that may have been missed. If your pharmacy doesn't offer this service, use a medication planner. This is a plastic organizer that stores scheduled doses of medications and makes it easier to keep on top of which medication to take and when.
  • Contact the pharmacy about medication synchronization.
    Medication synchronization allows patients to fill most medications at one time every 30 or 90 days, instead of refill cycles scattered throughout the month. This may help simplify and organize medications.
  • Request access to your mother's medical records.
    If something goes wrong and your mom needs extra help, having digital access to her medical records can help you get in touch with her primary care clinician or pharmacist to assist.
  • Schedule a visit with a pharmacist.
    A comprehensive medication review can be scheduled through your mother's primary care clinician's office. You can ask for a referral during a visit or call the scheduling line and ask for a referral. During the visit, a clinical pharmacist will review your parent's medication lists to ensure all the medications are prescribed correctly.
  • Talk with a pharmacist before adding vitamins and supplements.
    Even though these products can be purchased over the counter without a prescription, there are still important interaction concerns with some medications. Talk with a healthcare professional or pharmacist before adding vitamins, herbal remedies or supplements to your mom's medication regimen.

As a caregiver, it's important that you take time for self-care and recharging so that you can continue to give. Pay attention to how you feel emotionally and physically. If you need a break or would like assistance, ask family members or other loved ones for help. There are many caregiving resources in the community that can help your mom with needed services or additional support. The best measure of caregiver success is if you did your best with what you had available at that moment. Remember, you don't have to do it alone. Catherine Lea, Registered Pharmacist, Medication Therapy Management, Mayo Clinic Health System, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

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