Medication management is an important skill for both patients and caregivers. Many of you might not know that medication management or adherence to your medication has a fancy name called Pharmacokinetics. This word isn’t meant to intimidate you, but to stress the importance of understanding your medication and using best healthcare practices.
Medication adherence and management are particularly important for elderly folks and their caregivers. According to the World Health Organization, adherence occurs when an individual’s behavior matches the healthcare goals suggested by a healthcare professional. This can include taking medication, following a diet, and/or following a new exercise regime.
Research in the Journal of Clinical Nursing and the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing both agree that poor adherence and medication management occurs most frequently in seniors. Both sources also both found that adherence to medication is more complex for seniors because they have multiple disorders or conditions that need attention and medication.
Due to more complex illness, seniors struggle more than other groups to take their medication daily. If you want to see the best results and ensure best healthcare practices, take a look at these medication management tips.
Tips for Medication Management
1. Understand the Medication
The Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences defines medication as therapeutic interventions that aim to reduce patient suffering and symptoms. The overall goal of medication is to promote healing and increased quality of life.
Along with these goals comes the possibility of adverse side effects. This is why understanding medication is so important.
Ask questions and takes notes when the doctor provides information about the medication. Be sure to know:
- Side effects
- Why the medication has been prescribed
- Which symptoms the medication treats
Knowing the name and dosage of your medication will help immensely if you encounter a pharmacist error when he or she fills your prescription.
If you or your caregiver is not comfortable taking notes, ask the doctor to write down this information. Also, consider taking a picture of the information so that you readily have it on your cell phone.
2. Follow Directions
Safety is key to medication management and that involves following the directions. Start by reading the instructions that your pharmacist provides when he or she fills your medication. Address any concerns or questions with your doctor or the pharmacist as soon as possible.
- Ask your patient’s physician at which times you need to administer the medication and if the medication needs to be taken with a meal.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Doctors typically advise patients to keep medication in original containers to avoid mix-ups. Keeping meds in original containers also ensures correct expiration dates and amount of refills left on your prescription.
- Continue to the same pharmacy to avoid any confusion. Your pharmacist will also better understand your condition and will have more knowledge of all the medications that you take. This helps prevent adverse side effects.
- Regardless of instructions or tips listed on the prescription, medications often affect older people differently, so keep this in mind.
What is a half-life?
All medications have a half-life. A half-life is the amount of time it takes to eradicate half of the dosage from your body. After continuously taking medication for about a month, your body will reach a “steady state”. A steady state occurs when your body absorbs the same amount of the medication as it metabolizes and excretes the drug.
Most commonly, a steady state is reached after a drug undergoes five or six half-lives. You will most likely experience temporary side effects while the drug is reaching its steady state. This process is exactly why missing a dose is dangerous. When you miss a dose of the medication your body works harder to get back to a steady state and this is when temporary side effects heighten.
Under no circumstances is it a good idea to change the dosage or discontinue using the medication unless your healthcare provider says otherwise. If the medication is not helpful or is making the condition worse, talk to your healthcare provider about discontinuing or adjusting the medication.
3. Keep Medical and Prescription Records
- all medications and dosages,
- drug brand(s) and generic names,
- cautions of medications,
- any side effects experienced,
- surgeries, allergies,
- a family health record,
- and a list of current physicians or doctors and their phone numbers
Keep a written or electronic history of:
Every physician involved with treatment and medication additions or adjustments needs this history in order to make the best decisions regarding your health. Don’t forget to include medications like supplements or over-the-counter items or herbal medications.
Be sure to share this list with a loved one or a caregiver in the event that a serious drug interaction, overdose, or other side effects occur. Sharing this list with your pharmacist will also help reduce serious drug interactions.
If you want to keep a running list of medical records and prescriptions electronically, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration has a chart called “My Medicine Record” that you can use. Share this with your healthcare provider can use to keep their healthcare providers informed about their medications and dietary supplements.
4. Watch for Changes
Report any changes to your lifestyle like social changes, sleeping patterns, work schedules, and dieting. Your physician will likely need to consider these changes when adjusting or suggesting new medications.
As your body adjusts to medications, keep an eye out for any physical, emotional, or behavioral changes. Changes might be subtle, so consider journaling or ask your caregiver to take some notes for you. Changes to look out for include:
- Social changes like isolation, anger, or inability to communicate with others
- Change in diet like overeating or undereating
- New sleeping patterns including oversleeping or insomnia
If symptoms are extreme or unusual contact your doctor to talk about next steps or possible changes to your medication.
5. Be Health-Conscious
Recognize that when taken in conjunction with certain medications or supplements, prescriptions can have effects on the human body. The effectiveness of your prescriptions might decrease when combined with other medications or might cause adverse effects.
Seniors are more likely than other groups to take multiple types of medications on a regular basis. In fact, older adults take five or more prescriptions each day. When prescriptions combine with laxatives, antacids, or painkillers, life-threatening conditions might occur.
In order to be more aware of these possibilities and practice better health-conscious efforts, also monitor your eating habits. Be sure to also share this information with your physician.
Low-fat or high-calcium diets and coffee, tea, and alcohol consumption might make a difference in the way your medication works. According to the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, smoking and alcohol consumption are proven to have a negative effect on medication adherence. So not only do certain diets, foods, and alcohol and smoking reduce the effectiveness of prescriptions, but seniors are more likely to forget to take their medication if they do not practice good health hygiene.
Lastly, certain prescriptions are so specific that they require you to drink an eight-ounce glass of water in conjunction with the medication.
Strategies for Remembering Your Medication
1. Learn about your meds
Similar to the recommendation above, learn everything you can about your medications. Know what side effects might occur, how the medication functions and effects your body, and to communicate with your healthcare providers and caretakers.
3. Consider electronic tools
New technology is making it easier now more than ever before to track medication and health. Here are some simple ways to remember your medication:
- Amazon Echo Silver quickly becomes your new personal assistant by setting reminders and alarms for medications. This Alexa AI also sends an email to the families or caregivers of seniors to confirm which medications were taken and at what time each day.
- Try the Drugs.com Pill Reminder App which keeps a running history of when you take your medicine, a complete list of the medications, and receives prescription reminders on your phone or device.
- Go simple and set a recurring alarm on your cell phone or other electronic devices.
4. Phone a friend
Find a positive person who understands your medical situation and help set reminders or call you when it is time to take your medication.
5. Keep meds in sight
Leave your medication out in an easy-to-spot place like the kitchen table, bureau in your bedroom, or the bathroom counter. Spotting it every morning or in the evening might serve as a quick reminder.
6. Combine with a daily task
What tasks or activities do you partake in every day? Combine taking your medication with one of these tasks so that you better manage your medication schedule. If you are a coffee drinker, set that time aside in the morning to take your medication while pouring a cup of coffee.
7. Follow a ritual
Do you make time for other self-care activities aside from avidly taking your medication? If you like to take a walk in the morning, try taking your medication after that daily walk. You might also journal in the evening. Take your meds after you have finished your journal entry as a way to practice self-care and mental hygiene.
Medication Management While Traveling
1. Keep meds in a carry-on bag
If you are flying or traveling, keep your medications in a carry-on bag. This way, it will be easier to access medication on the plane or in transition at the airport, and the temperature will be better regulated. Sometimes if the temperature is too hot or cold medication won’t be nearly as effective.
Furthermore, if your luggage is lost or misplaced, you won’t have any issues with missing a dose.
Disclose this to security to prevent any issues.
2. Don’t leave meds in the car
If the temperature is very cold or hot, do not leave medications inside the car. They might become ineffective or even dangerous after exposure to extreme temperatures.
5. Tell TSA if you’re traveling with liquid medications
The U.S Transportation Security Administration only allows you to travel with 3.4 ounces of liquid medication. Airports might also x-ray scan liquid medications, so tell an officer at the beginning of a security check.
3. Keep meds in original container
Keep your medication in the original labeled container that your pharmacist provided you. A copy of your prescription either in paper form or on your cellular device might also come in handy at the airport. Lastly, bring a letter from your doctor if you are taking a medicine that you inject or a controlled substance like painkillers. We suggest you do the same for needles, syringes, and oxygen tanks.
4. Manage supplies before traveling
Stock up on medication before you travel and also advise your doctor if you are going to be away for an extended period of time. Try to have enough for a couple of extra days in case your flight is delayed, canceled, or you want to stay longer.
6. Check the law
Just because your medication is legal in the United States does not mean that other countries will allow them. Check with the U.S. embassy at your destination to make sure you can travel with your medication
Safety Precautions for Taking Medications
The FDA recommends that seniors take safety precautions when taking medication due to a bigger risk of drug interaction.
Types of Drug Interaction
1. Drug-drug interactions
This occurs when two or more medications cause a reaction which is followed up adverse effects on the body. Because one medication is always stronger than the other, the weaker one will be negated. For example, taking a sedative and antihistamine causes slower reactions and can make driving or operating a machine dangerous.
2. Drug-condition interactions
This occurs when a preexisting condition worsens due to a medication that you take. For example, nasal decongestants cause negative reactions for people who have high blood pressure of asthma.
3. Drug-food interactions
This occurs when medications and drugs negatively interact with food or drinks. Drugs and food affect how each is metabolized and absorbed in the body.
4. Drug-alcohol interactions
This occurs when medications react with alcoholic beverages. Oftentimes, this leads to slow reactions and drowsiness.
What to Ask Your Doctor or Pharmacist
- What is the name of the medicine?
- Are there alternative brands that are less expensive?
- How and at what time should I take the medicine?
- Should it be taken with water, food, or at the same time as other medicines?
- What do I do if I miss a dose?
- Should I take the medicine before, during, or after meals?
- What do you mean by “as needed”?
- Are there other instructions I need to follow?
- What foods, medicines, dietary supplements, or activities should I avoid?
- What side effects might I experience?
- When will the medicine start working?
- How will I know if the medicine is working?
- Do I need to update you or report back to a doctor?
- Will I need a refill? If so, when?
- Where should I store this medicine?
Medication management and adherence is essential for well being and maintaining health, especially for seniors. Managing medication requires the collaboration of you and your healthcare professional. In fact, the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that relationships with physicians and nurses is essential for medication management and the communication of medication-related information is key to successful healthcare practices.
Use the tips above to properly manage your medication whether at home or on the go and reach out to your healthcare professional if you have any concerns or questions.