The Art and Science of Medication Management for Seniors

dreamstime_l_9027708Medication management for both seniors and caregivers can be overwhelming. In this series, we’ll look at ways to make the process less daunting. Here are some tips to get you started.

As a primary caregiver to my parents, I never imagined I’d become a medical historian, health surrogate and patient advocate — that’s quite a few shoes to fill! — all of which required me to learn a great deal about medication management when they could no longer handle their own healthcare.

In my case, both parents were taking upwards of two dozen pills a day.  (Eventually, after becoming more proactive in their healthcare decisions, I was able to whittle down this number with doctor approval. Some of their symptoms disappeared and their health actually improved, but that’s a story for a different post.)

MEDICATION MANAGEMENT FOR SENIORS

Before I delve into the world of medication management tools, it’s important to know that old-fashioned information management is best. With today’s technology, we can take advantage of more than just pill boxes; dozens of digital applications and computerized gadgets are available now to assist caregivers with medication management.

But in my experience, you need to go back to basics before employing technology. This was my best practice: simply taking notes with pen and paper or creating an editable spreadsheet on my word processor to organize all the loose ends of medication management.

Find a basic method that works for you. Think of caregiving as going back to school and gathering knowledge you’ll have to apply to every day in a practical manner. It’s life education.

Seniors who require regular medical attention may change medications or dosages on a daily basis. Keeping up with these changes requires much attention to detail. I can safely say that at least 25 percent or more of my caregiving involved medication management as I had to update the spreadsheet I created in my word processor to keep track of it all on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

While this may sound obvious — “of course I’m going to jot things down” — the amount of information you’ll need to manage can become quite daunting. Every time you visit a specialist, for example — an optometrist, a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, a dentist or maybe a hospital emergency room — you’ll need to take new notes because patient care protocol will most likely differ from the previous day. I often took notes by hand or digitally on my mobile phone to update my spreadsheet later on my laptop.

Remember, you are at the frontline of patient advocacy: you’ll not only need to manage care for your seniors, you’ll need to be able to communicate this information clearly to medical staff.

When I put pills in my parents’ pillboxes, I sat in a quiet room to focus on the process, while using my notes as reference. I tried not to rush. (You’d be surprised how easy it’s to confuse one pill for another when they look almost exactly alike.)

MEDICATION MANAGEMENT WITH SPREADSHEETS

My medication management spreadsheet contained the following rows and columns: name of patient, name of medication, dosage of medication, time of day for medication delivery, date of refill, name of prescribing doctor, name of pharmacist and telephone number of pharmacy, with “last updated” automatically adjusted in the document’s footer. There could be an infinite number of variations depending on a patient’s needs.

While some pharmacies offer convenient reminders for refills, this system doesn’t work as well when medication requirements shift frequently.

This spreadsheet is helpful for many uses, including the following: for yourself, so you can see medication management at a glance; for doctors visits, when you discuss medication management with medical staff; for aides and other family caregivers, when you’re not able to administer medication; and for emergency medical technicians, when you need to call an ambulance. If your elderly loved ones are still somewhat independent, they can carry this information with them in a car’s glove compartment or in a purse.

I kept an updated medication management sheet tacked to the wall by the front door in my parent’s house so that anyone could explain the patient’s needs to any medical personnel. Sometimes our hired aides didn’t speak English very well. In that case, all they had to do was to point to the sheet.

Even an expert family caregiver needs to have all information at a glance during when an ambulance arrives because emergency calls can push you into a panic.

I hope this basic introduction to medication management for seniors has been helpful. In future posts, I’ll share more details about medication management including mobile phone applications and tools.

maria de los angelesMaria de los Angeles is an award-winning writer based in Miami who became a caregiver to her parents in 2008. Since then, she has been a passionate advocate for eldercare and caregiver issues.

Untitled designClaudio Alegre is the CEO & Chief Content Writer for Angel Home Care Services on the Web and Patient and Family Advocate off the Web. He lives in Miami with his wife and 3 boys. He's passionate about healthcare and all things caregiving. He can be reached at [email protected] or directly at 305.220.4544
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