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Medication Management at Home: Tips for Seniors and Caregivers accent

April 17, 2024 | By

“Did I remember my medication this morning?” 

“Wait, can my mom take these pills together?”

“Oh no, was I supposed to take that pill on an empty stomach?”

If you’ve ever asked one of these questions, you’re not alone. When taken correctly, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and supplements can help us maintain a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, mismanaging medications can be all too easy, especially when you’re trying to manage them on your own. 

Learn more about this issue and consider how you or your loved one can improve your approach to medication management at home.

Common Challenges in Medication Management at Home

Studies show that medication self-administration errors are a common problem among older adults. The most commonly reported mistakes older adults make when managing their own medications include: 

  • Dosing errors
  • Missed doses
  • Wrong medicine
  • Incorrect administration methods
  • Wrong administration time
  • Wrong frequency

These mistakes are especially easy to make when you’re trying to manage multiple medicines—a situation that applies to most older adults. In fact, more than half of adults 65 and older report taking four or more prescription drugs, according to KFF.

Tips for Effective Medication Management at Home

If you or your loved one are struggling with medication management at home, follow these tips to avoid errors and receive the full benefit of medications.

1. Create a detailed medication list and dosing schedule.

Start by ensuring you know exactly what your medication regimen should look like. This means creating a detailed list that covers all medications you’re taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. 

For each medication, include:

  • Medication name: Note both the medication’s generic name and brand name(s) to avoid confusion, as your pharmacist or medical team may refer to it either way (e.g., your thyroid medication may be referred to as “Levothyroxine” or the brand name “Synthroid”).
  • Dosage: Consider writing down the dose you’re prescribed in terms of milligrams (or whatever unit the medication is measured in) and noting what that dosage looks like for you (e.g., one tablet, half a syringe, and so on).
  • Frequency and timing: Note how often you are directed to take the medication and, if applicable, what time of day. For example, you may need to take a medication with breakfast and again with dinner, or you may need to administer a dose every six hours. 
  • Administration instructions: Write down instructions from your doctor or pharmacist regarding the correct way to administer the drug. For instance, you may need to administer an injection in your thigh or take a certain pill on an empty stomach.
  • Purpose and prescribing doctor: The more medications and supplements you take, the easier it becomes to forget what they’re for and which physician prescribed what. Jot down who prescribed each medication and its intended purpose (e.g., “lowers cholesterol” or “blood thinner”). You may also note whether the prescription is temporary or long-term.
  • Possible side effects: You should note potential side effects for each medication so you can identify problems quickly and work with your healthcare provider to manage the effects or find an alternative medication or treatment.

Update your master list whenever you are prescribed a new medication, your dosage changes, you’re taken off a certain drug, or your regimen is adjusted.


2. Use pill organizers.

Pill organizers offer a simple solution for staying on top of your medication regimen and preventing that common question: Did I take that pill earlier, or did I forget? Plus, pill organizers make taking your medications on the go easier. Consider buying an organizer with separate compartments for each day so you can easily detach and take that day’s pills before you leave the house. 

You’ll find a wide array of pill organizers online, or you can look at the options available at your pharmacy. The most important tip for choosing the ideal pill organizer is ensuring it comes with a compartment for each time of day you’re supposed to take a pill. For example, rather than just morning, noon, and night, you may need an organizer with five compartments to include before breakfast, with breakfast, noon, evening, and bedtime.

Once you’ve found the perfect product, load your pill organizer at the start of each week while consulting your medication list and dosing schedule. Now you’re ready for a worry-free week of medication management!


3. Establish habits.

The longer you follow a medication regimen, the more routine and familiar it will become. However, you can speed up that process by proactively establishing habits that make remembering to take your medication easier. 

Try linking medication administration with existing habits or daily routines to create a natural rhythm you can easily follow. For example, you may keep a medication that should be taken on an empty stomach on your nightstand and take it every morning before your feet ever hit the floor. Or you may remember to take a twice-daily medication by taking it when you brush your teeth in the morning and again when you brush your teeth before bed. You might remember your daily multivitamin by taking it each morning with your coffee.

Create a habit that feels natural, and you’ll fall into a consistent routine without expending too much mental effort.


4. Set reminders.

A pill organizer can help you see if you’ve accidentally missed a dose, but try to avoid that scenario in the first place. Some people with complicated medication regimens that strategically space out medications may not be able to take a pill later without throwing off their whole schedule.

So how can you stay on top of your dosing schedule? This tip is a simple yet effective one: Set reminders. You can do this in a variety of ways:

  • Tell your smart speaker to remind you at a certain time(s) each day to take your medication(s).
  • Set a recurring reminder or alarm on your smartphone.
  • Sign up for a subscription service that will call or text you to remind you to take your medication. 
  • Use a medication-management app to remind you when it's time to take your medications. (Some apps even allow you to set reminders for refilling prescriptions.)

Find a method that works for you, and take your medication as soon as you receive your reminder.


5. Ask for assistance.

If juggling medications ever becomes overwhelming, consider enlisting the help of a trusted family member or professional caregiver to assist with medication management. For example, a relative or friend could assist you in creating your master medication list and dosing schedule or help you fill your pill organizer at the start of each week. 

This is also an area where you can receive help through senior living services, including at-home services or assisted living. Medication management is a common way home health aides and senior living team members provide assistance. You may be able to manage on your own, but inviting in some help can relieve your mental burden and give you more peace of mind. Plus, these professionals can assist in other ways to enrich your life at home.


Find Support for Successful Medication Management at Home 

Medication management can be challenging. However, by implementing these practical tips and seeking support when needed, older adults and caregivers can improve medication management at home to promote safety and well-being.

Remember, you don’t need to struggle on your own with medication management. Read The Complete Guide to At-Home Services to learn more about how a home health aide can provide the support you need to thrive.

Learn more about at-home services in our complete guide!

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