Safe Medication and Aging - Retirement Net by Diane Carbo

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Safe Medication and Aging

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Six challenges to overcoming medication errors.

Posted November 17, 2010

There are many challenges we face with aging and taking medications, but these obstacles can be overcome by caregivers.

Vision. Impaired vision can cause difficulty reading the labels on medications. Ask the pharmacist to provide labels in large print. For over-the-counter medications, caregivers can make large print labels to place on those bottles. Using a magnifying glass for reading may also be helpful.

Hearing. Hearing difficulties can affect the information your patient hears and how they interpret what is said. It is important that you have doctors and other health care professionals speak louder, or write down instructions. Caregivers may also assist their patient by going with them and taking notes.

Swallowing. As we age, we sometimes experience difficulties with swallowing pills and capsules. When a doctor prescribes a medication, ask if it comes in an alternative form. If it does not, ask if it can be crushed. Many medications cannot be crushed, so the doctor may have to order an alternative medication.

Memory. Everyone has lapses in memory. For the aging, who are more likely to be forgetful, forgetting a medication can have serious consequences. It’s important that a medication system be put into place. Medication systems can range from simple, low-tech pill boxes to high-tech containers that alert your patient when it’s time for a dose, and have a system in place to alert the caregiver if a dose has been missed.

Dexterity. As we age, opening bottles, breaking pills, or giving eyedrops to ourselves can become a challenge. Ask the pharmacist to provide easy-to-open bottle tops for your prescription medications. If a medication is to be cut in half, ask the pharmacist to do that for you when they fill the prescription. Alternatively, there are easy-to-use, inexpensive pill cutters available. Your pharmacist can recommend one that will suit your needs.

Scheduling. The greatest challenge with aging and safe medication is the scheduling of the medications themselves. Caregivers can overcome this obstacle in several ways. The medication systems as discussed above can help. It’s important to plan for medications around your aging adult's daily schedule. Plan a schedule to take medications around mealtimes or bedtime. These activities can be cues that it is time to take medications. Your doctor or your pharmacist can assist with developing a plan to best suit your needs.

These are the six most common challenges that caregivers face when dealing with their patient and medications. Being proactive and developing ongoing assessment of the medication system will increase the assurance of safe medication for the elderly.

Diane Carbo, RN has over 35 years’ experience in a variety of nursing settings, including orthopedics/rehabilitation nursing, home care, discharge planning, case management, oncology, hospice, senior behavior health, assisted living, and long term care. Her passion is to help people plan for long-term care needs, and to that end started Her goal is to assist aging seniors and their families to develop plans that allow individuals to remain home, safely and comfortably, in the least restrictive environment, regardless of age, income or ability level.


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