As people age, their medical needs inevitably become more complex. Research indicates that the vast majority of Canadian seniors take at least one prescription drug, and many seniors are on multiple medications. In fact, the average number of prescriptions a senior citizen in Canada takes is seven, with two thirds of seniors taking five or more prescription drugs every single day¹. Understanding this, it’s no surprise that managing an aging person’s medication can feel like a part-time job!
Prescription drug safety is an important part of maintaining good health as we age, but it may take some practice. Here are some simple, practical tips to avoid medication errors. These guidelines are particularly helpful if multiple caregivers are assisting with medication management (for example, a PSW and a family member) or if the senior in question has Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia.
Keep everything in one place
Instead of keeping some pills on the kitchen table, others in the bathroom and a few more on the bedside table, keep all medications in one place. Even if a pill is taken with breakfast, it’s best to keep the bottle in the same place as the mid-day and evening pills. You may want to organize medications in a variety of small baskets or other containers, but do try to keep them in the same cupboard or drawer.
Be sure to store all of your medication as directed (typically in a cool, dry place or in the fridge, if taking something like insulin) and review your medication supply regularly. This allows you to call in for refills as needed and dispose of any expired medication. (Hint: you should do the same thing with vitamins and non-prescription medications like Advil or antacids!)
Talk to your pharmacist
Once you’ve gathered all medications and supplements into one place, make a list of everything that has been prescribed. Because seniors often see multiple doctors (for example, a geriatrician and/or diabetes specialist as well as a family doctor), there is potential for prescription overlap or error. A pharmacist can review what’s been prescribed and flag any potentially dangerous interactions.
It’s also important to note any dietary restrictions related to medication. For example, some seniors cannot eat grapefruit because of the type of medications they’re taking, while others have to avoid dairy for several hours a day (around the time a specific pill is taken). Write these requirements down and post them on the fridge or another obvious place—it’s helpful and important!
Use a daily pill sorter or blister pack
Many pharmacists offer blister packs that keep medications organized by day and time. These pre-filled medication packages also allow you to see if any doses have been missed. This is an incredibly helpful tool but failing this availability, consider using a basic pill sorter to achieve the same result. These are easy to find at most pharmacies and typically cost less than $10.
Understand potential side effects
While medications are intended to make us feel and function better, they sometimes have side effects. Consider speaking to your aging relative’s doctor and/or pharmacist about common and lesser known side effects of the drugs they’re taking. This may help you differentiate between illness and a normal result of taking specific drugs (for example, dry mouth, nausea or headaches). If these side effects begin to negatively impact a senior’s quality of life, please speak to their doctor about alternatives.
If you have questions about homecare services in Toronto or the Greater Toronto Area, please reach out to Living Assistance Services for a personalized consultation and quote. We would be pleased to discuss how homecare services may help your family. Thanks so much for reading, and take care!