6 Ways Seniors Can Take Control of Their Medication Schedules
Talk with your doctor about the best medication options for your needs.
You have a lot your plate these days, so it can be easy to make mistakes when it comes to managing your daily health and medication schedule. To make things even more complex, you might also be seeing several different doctors for various conditions. If you find that you’re having trouble managing your medications, here are six things you can do to take more control over the situation.
1) Ensure That Your Doctors Are Communicating With Each Other
“When you have multiple medications prescribed by different doctors, communication among providers is not as seamless as we would like it to be,” Washington, D.C.-based registered nurse Amelia Roberts told Care.com. “For this reason, it's helpful that multiple doctors who are prescribing medications are on the same page with this effort. You as a patient will be key to ensure this communication is happening.”
In short, don’t assume that your medical team is up-to-date on all of your health conditions. Instead, take the initiative to actively check in with your doctors and make sure that they’re aware of your health conditions and treatment plans. Bring a list of your medications to every appointment, including the name of the medication, dosage, time, and frequency with which you take each medication. Be sure to update your physicians on any recent chances in your health and provide them with contact information for any new specialists who may be treating you.
Roberts suggests stating, "I want you to know that these are all of the medications that I am taking. How will my new medication regime impact or change the medications that I am currently taking?" You also can ask, "How will my medication changes be communicated to my other providers?"
2) Be an Informed Consumer When It Comes to Medication
It’s important to understand what medication options are available to treat your specific conditions. Not many people realize that some of their medications can be taken monthly, rather than weekly. Understand the difference between medications -- some may need to be administered via subcutaneous injection, so consider whether this is manageable for you or a loved one. In this case, Roberts said, monthly infusion appointments may be more realistic than booking the appointment every week.
If you’re already on a more frequent or higher dosage and you’d like to taper down, Roberts encouraged patients to speak with their doctors about a possible weaning plan or “drug holiday,” which is a mutually agreed upon break from the medication regime. Communicating with your physician about your medication options, as well as how they affect you, is an important step in advocating for your own health.
3) Don't Be Afraid to Ask Your Pharmacist Questions
In addition to doctors and nurses, your pharmacist can also be an untapped resource when it comes to taking control of your medication schedule.
A pharmacist can be involved with product selection, route selection, patient education, and many more functions. Roberts explained that they can clarify medication orders, and are often the first to catch medication errors. If you don’t understand the dosage or frequency in which you’re supposed to take a medication, the pharmacist can explain this to you.
It's important to note, though, that a pharmacist cannot prescribe medication and treat an illness.
4) Turn Your Medication Schedule Into a Visual Aid
Registered nurse Tiana Morano said that patients typically have an easier time managing their medication schedules when they turn them into some kind of visual chart. That way, they can set their schedules for each and every medication.
Your first step is to make a chart with grids. On one axis, you can put all the names of all the medications you take. On the other axis, you can plot out the frequency with which you need to take each medication. Obviously, this will be easier if you’re taking medications that all require the same dosage frequency. If you have medications that need to be taken at different times, get creative and figure out a measurement system that makes sense to you. Once you’ve created your chart, make sure to hang it someplace where it’s clearly visible. After you’ve taken your medication, just place a checkmark on the chart in the space designated for that particular medication and that particular time.
5) Use a Medication Container
As the next line of defense, consider getting a “smart” medication container. You’re probably familiar with the containers that have the days of the week listed on them which can help organize the pills you’re supposed to take daily. However, there are also automatic pill dispensers that will not only dispense the medication at a certain time, but can also alert the individual by lights or sound when it’s time to take the medication. This not only helps prevent unintentional overdoses, but it also helps you remember exactly when you need to take your medicine.
6) Determine If You Need a Care Coordinator to Manage Your Medication
Sometimes the smartest -- and safest -- thing we can do is ask for help, especially when it comes to our health. Talk to your doctor or loved ones about areas where you might be struggling with -- they can help you come up with a plan to ensure your health needs can be met.
Morano said she has witnessed two scenarios that have generally led to the patient seeking out additional help. The first is when the person’s friends or family would ask them, “Have you taken your medication today?” Patients quickly began to realize the frequency with which they were answering with “No,” and saw that as their cue to look into getting help with their medications.
The second scenario, according to Morano, involves the patients themselves becoming aware of worsening short-term memory issues and skipped or multiplied doses. Morano said that if patients are speaking to family members or friends about their worsening memory, they should request a medical and cognitive evaluation by a medical professional. This will help them understand what might be causing the memory challenges and what options for treatment that are available.
It’s best to be honest with yourself and your providers when it comes to your health care. “Take care of your body; it’s the only place you have to live in.”
Check out our articles on aging in the home environment.