Medication Safety Tip Sheet for Seniors

Sunrise Senior Living  |  September 15, 2020
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Safely adhering to a medication schedule can sometimes be tough for seniors, especially those who take multiple types of medicine each day. For reasons ranging from memory loss to small print on prescription labels, seniors make dangerous mistakes with medications every day.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, 770,000 older adults per year wind up in a hospital emergency room for issues related to medications. As concerns about the coronavirus linger, seniors may be limiting contact with a home care companion or loved one who has assisted with their medication management.

If you are concerned a loved one might be struggling to manage their medications, these tips will be of interest.

Medication Mistakes by Seniors and Tips to Prevent Them

  1. Getting times confused: Some prescription medications are time-sensitive, including those for diabetes and heart disease. If a dose is missed or if several doses are taken too closely, the result can be dangerous. If coronavirus concerns keep you or another caregiver from helping in person, consider an electronic option like MedMinder. This device has a variety of features that help older adults stick to a medication schedule.
  2. Swallowing problems: Seniors with chronic health conditions that make swallowing difficult might not be compliant with medication. For some, especially those who live alone, it is a fear of choking that keeps them from taking their recommended doses. The senior might also crush a pill to take with food or empty the contents of a capsule in water to drink. Though it may be fine for some medications, it can cause those with a time-release component to be ineffective or even dangerous. If your family member is having trouble swallowing a pill, ask their pharmacist to see if altering the format is possible.
  3. Reading tiny print: Seniors often have some type of vision loss, especially when it comes to reading fine print. An older adult might make a medication error simply because the print on the label is too small to read. This challenge is one that can be avoided by calling the pharmacy. Ask them to use labels with a larger font that is friendlier on older eyes.
  4. Storing medication improperly: How you store a medication can impact its effectiveness. For many people, that means a kitchen counter or bathroom cabinet. Unfortunately, both are bad locations because temperature and humidity can fluctuate widely in both places. A bedroom drawer is usually a better option.

For seniors who are self-isolating in an effort to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, there are a few additional steps you can take to stay safe.

Medicines and COVID-19

If you are worried about how to avoid visiting the pharmacy or how to stay in touch with a physician without going into their office, there are options to pursue:

  • Virtual visits: Take advantage of virtual physician visits to discuss medication worries. Medicare’s revised telehealth benefit covers the costs associated with these appointments, at least in the short-term while the COVID-19 crisis persists.
  • Mail order pharmacy: Find out if your insurance covers mail order prescriptions. Many policies do and some even offer an option that places medications in punch cards with labels as to when the dosage should be taken.
  • Home delivery: Call your local pharmacy to ask about any home delivery services they offer. Most established chains will deliver at no cost.

For those unfamiliar with virtual appointments, Are Virtual Physician Visits an Option for Your Senior Family Member? is an article that will help you learn more.

At Sunrise Senior Living, we’ve moved to virtual appointments and visits, too. Our residents use platforms like Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime to connect with friends and family members during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also offer potential residents an opportunity to schedule a virtual tour. Call the community nearest you to learn more!

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