Ask the Expert: Caregivers and Responsible Senior Medication

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Cliff Keltner, a clinical pharmacist affiliated with Sharp, explains how caregivers can help seniors with medication.

How can I make sure my loved ones are taking their medications?
One way to make sure if your patient or loved one is taking their medication correctly is counting the number of tablets left in the bottle. If he or she is taking too much or too frequently you would expect that the prescription might be running low or running out too quickly. If the doses are being missed, he or she would have too much medication left at the end of the month. Another thing you can do is check with the pharmacy and make sure if all the medications are being refilled regularly and at the proper time. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to take all your medications regularly. One thing you can do is use a pillbox to help schedule proper times and how often and when to take a medication. Another one is setting a timer or alarm every day if medications have to be taken at a certain time.

What if someone is having difficulty opening pill bottles?
If a patient is having difficulty opening their medication, one option is asking the pharmacy to fill the medication in a non–child resistant cap. It’s a very common request and most pharmacies can make sure that all your medications come in an easy-open container.

Can the prescription labels be printed in a larger size? They are too small to read.
If a patient has difficulty reading prescription labels, since they do come in pretty small print, most pharmacies can print them in a larger font or print for your patient. Another option that some patients do is they have their family member or caregiver write the name of the medication and what it’s used for and how to take it on a piece of paper and rubber band it to the medication bottle itself.

What if someone has difficulty swallowing pills?
If a patient has problems or difficulty swallowing tablets, one option is checking with the pharmacy if the medicine is available in a liquid form. Some medications can be given interchangeable in a tablet or liquid formulation and be easier to swallow. Another option would be possibly splitting or crushing the medication but again it’s very important to check with the pharmacy first to make sure that particular medication can be crushed or split.

How can I differentiate whether the medication is causing a side effect?
Sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate if the medication is causing a side effect. One important thing is to be familiar with some of the common side effects of a particular medication so you know what to watch for. I generally don’t recommend stopping a medication until you talk to a doctor or pharmacist first. Some medications shouldn’t be stopped suddenly since they may cause more side effects. It’s always the best to check with someone first. Find out whether the medication can be stopped and what other options that you may have.

For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's senior health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about senior health, read the Senior Health News archive.

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About the Expert
Cliff Keltner is a clinical pharmacist affiliated with Sharp.