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“Is this Beth? Hi Beth, this is Dr. Robbins. Your mom is in the ER at Centennial. Your dad called 911 when he couldn’t wake her up very well. Her blood sugar had dropped to unsafe levels. We have it under control now and she is feeling much better. Your dad gave me your number. I want you to talk to our social worker about some additional support needs at home. We are worried she’s not taking her medicine correctly. This is her 3rd time here since January.”
Have you found yourself in this kind of situation? You didn’t know mom had been to the ER those other times because Dad hadn’t told you? It’s okay. Don’t feel guilty. You are far from the first person to go through this.
Staying on top of medication can be something of a vicious circle: A patient is confused and doesn’t take their meds correctly, or at the right time. This makes their issues more exaggerated which can result in their confusion getting worse.
Go to your loved one’s house and ask them to get out all of their medicine. Everything. This can be something of a shock. There are often old prescription bottles (some full and some empty) mixed with new prescriptions. You might find medicines stored in many different places – the bathroom sink, the cabinet in the kitchen, the nightstand, and maybe even a bottle from under the bed.
Next, get an up to date list of EVERYTHING they’re taking:
It is a good idea to call ALL of their different healthcare providers and have them either mail, email, or fax the list to you. If your loved one isn’t able to make the request with you, you’ll need a release form to do this. Ask if there is a portal, or online page, where they keep these updated so you can just print the list from there.
Place old medicine bottles and expired medication in a separate bag. Ask your local pharmacist about places where you can dispose of them safely. Some big pharmacies like Walgreens and Rite Aid will have this service, as well as some local police stations.
You may find that different doctors have different medications on the list. Create a master list and then go and see your loved one’s pharmacist.
It’s ideal for all medicines to go through one pharmacist. They are specialists at knowing how different medicines and supplements interact with each other, which is particularly important when adding new ones. Have the pharmacist look at the list and make sure the meds are all working together, and not against each other.
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Now that you’ve got a verified list, make sure everyone knows the following:
Although it’s hard to see a parent becoming confused or needing outside help, and even harder for them to admit it, it’s important for you to be your loved one’s advocate.
Go to their doctor’s visits with them or, if you can’t because you are out of town, see if someone can go on your behalf and get you on the phone/facetime during the appointment.
Write down a list of questions to ask their doctor before you go. This can help you to not get confused when you’re in the room and forget what other questions you had. Also make sure you give the doctor the fantastic, up-to-date list of medicines you just made! If your loved one is having trouble keeping up with their medicine schedule, discuss it with their doctor.
There are many little things that can prevent an aging loved one from taking their medication. Things like not being able to read the label or open the jar can be overcome with simple and readily available fixes. Pill organizers with clearly labeled instructions are a good place to start. You can get these from your local grocery or drug store.