Medication safety tips for seniors

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!


¹https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/drug-use-among-seniors-2016-en-web.pdf

Meet Pauline Lyons of Living Assistance Services in Toronto

Choosing a homecare provider can be overwhelming, particularly with so many options in the greater Toronto area. It is a significant decision, and you probably have more questions than answers when starting out. After all, you want the best for your aging loved ones, and must ensure that they will be treated with great care and respect. 

Skill and experience are critical, but there needs to be more: kindness, compassion, patience, and the ability to approach anything with a positive attitude. We have said it before, and we will say it again: our people are what make the difference. In that spirit, we would like to help you get to know our team better in the coming weeks. Please take a moment to read this Q&A with Pauline Lyons, Managing Director of Living Assistance Services in Toronto.

When did you join Living Assistance Services, and what do you like about working with this team?

I joined in 2017 and what I love most about Living Assistance Services is that it is a team effort. Everyone in our office is 100% committed to the care of our clients. We receive positive feedback from family members and from our clients themselves, so we know that we are contributing something very positive to their lives.

What made you want to work with seniors?

I have worked in client services for more than two decades, so I possess a strong customer service background. I’ve been told that I am good with people, and I enjoy learning new things and sharing my experiences with them—it is very much who I am. 

In my experience, people of advanced age have remarkable stories to tell, and you can learn a lot from them. You always feel like you come away from an experience with seniors a little more knowledgeable than you went into it.

What is the benefit of homecare?

First and foremost, it is the ability to stay in your own home with the people, pets and personal possessions that are important to you, in a setting you are familiar with. You spend a lot of your lifetime creating memories in your home, and all those memories are lost if you are not in your own home. Living Assistance Services offers clients the opportunity to customize their homecare services. No two experiences are the same.

What sets your caregivers apart from other homecare agencies?

Well, our hiring process is very stringent. We reject a considerable number of caregivers before we make a final selection based on skill, experience, and compassion. I would say for every ten individuals we interview, we only hire one. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

It is extremely rewarding to give seniors a better quality of life. Also, homecare gives families an opportunity to continue living their life and taking advantage of all the things that make life special while we assist them with taking care of their parents. 

Outside of work, what can you tell us about yourself?

I am very curious about everything. I seek out new experiences and information. I also have wanderlust and therefore love to travel. My interest lies in visiting places where I can experience cultures quite different from my own.

What does light housekeeping include?

When you book a caregiver from Living Assistance Services in Toronto to support aging family members at home, it’s often to help them with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). This includes things like bathing, dressing, personal hygiene and other day-to-day tasks that come with independent living. Our caregivers also offer support with meal prep and cleanup, can accompany seniors on errands and may perform light housekeeping tasks during each visit. This can be a great help to seniors, particularly if their ADL needs don’t take up an entire shift and there is time to focus on complementary services. 

All of our services are delivered with compassion and respect, and our caregivers strive to provide joyful companionship during each and every visit. Light housekeeping is a wonderful complement to other personal services as it supports a higher quality of life and allows seniors to feel safer and more comfortable in their home. Here’s a brief overview of some of the housekeeping tasks our caregivers can help with. 

Tidying up

Our caregivers are not dedicated house cleaners, so they typically will not scrub bathrooms or perform deep cleaning services. However, they are available to provide support with light housekeeping tasks such as changing bed sheets and/or making beds, tidying up a room, taking out the trash and emptying the recycling bin, or other small jobs that help keep a home clean and organized. They may replace rolls of toilet paper and refill hand soaps, or help change a cat’s litter box, for example. 

A clean house is a happy house—one that seniors can take pride in. The simple act of washing and replacing bed sheets can be a huge help for older individuals who struggle with these tasks. After all, it feels wonderful to climb into a freshly made bed with clean sheets! 

Assistance with laundry

Laundry is one of those never-ending housekeeping tasks we just can’t avoid, but it can become more difficult with age. Clothing can be heavy and if balance or mobility is an issue, doing the laundry can be challenging or even dangerous for seniors (this is particularly true in a multi-level home where the use of stairs is required). 

Our dedicated Personal Support Workers (PSWs) can help clients by completing a load of laundry during their shift. This includes washing, drying and folding clothes upon request, or even putting them away in drawers and closets. They can also replace linens in the kitchen and bathrooms with freshly washed items. Not only is this pleasant for clients and their guests, it supports good health and hand hygiene. 

Doing the dishes

Our caregivers are often present at mealtime and will assist with both preparing and serving meals as needed. After a client has enjoyed their breakfast, lunch or dinner, our caregivers will complete the task by hand-washing dishes or loading the dishwasher. They’ll also wipe down any dirty counters in order to leave the kitchen neat and clean. It’s a small part of their responsibility for the day, but it makes a big impact for seniors who appreciate both cleanliness and routine. 

Living Assistance Services believes in delivering personalized care that supports independent living and helps seniors thrive at home for as long as possible. To learn more or receive a quote, please reach out to our team. We’d be pleased to hear from you.