As I sit down to research the topic of Safe Medications I am struck by the fact that these good practices are not just for seniors. Any of us – at any time and at any age – can suddenly find that simple tasks we took for granted are not so simple when you are temporarily disabled.
Last summer I broke my wrist and despite the modern era, I had a large plaster cast. I suddenly had to make sure that the simplest things in the house were accessible to me when everyone left for work or school in the morning. After a few days you develop a system: please put fresh water in the kettle; help me wash my hair; leave the caps off the pill bottles (mine and the dog’s); and please fill her water dish!
My family was trained but alas the cleaning lady I suddenly needed was not. After leaving on her first day I was feeling pleased with what she had accomplished…until I saw that she had put the caps on the prescription bottles. When that happens you suddenly wonder why – at the age of ‘50 –something’ – you need a child proof bottle!
There was no way I could get the caps off. Picture my trying to hold the bottle between my knees (which was totally pointless). How about under the arm pit? And yes, I even wondered if I could somehow use my teeth!
Although I only needed the meds for a few days, I did need them. The dog needed hers twice a day. And I could not access them.
Now I remember my mother’s kitchen table lined up with various bottles, all with the caps off. She told me in no uncertain terms not to touch them. I realize the challenge she would have had with her arthritic hands and diminishing strength.
Challenges with safely taking medications do not have to be limited to seniors. But as Caregivers, we certainly have to be aware of issues that may affect the person needing the prescription.
Limitations with dexterity are not limited to age, but it is true that simple tasks do get harder. Opening bottles, the difficulty of breaking a pill or giving eye drops to ourselves can become a challenge.
Ask the pharmacist to provide easy to open bottle tops for your prescription medications. If a medication is to be cut in half, ask the pharmacist to do that for you when they are filling the prescription or ask for an inexpensive pill cutter. My father in law had a great option. His pharmacy provided his daily medications in a bubble pack that allowed him to clearly see what time and day the pill was to be taken. It was easy to push through the bubble pack – and if the lunch pill was still there at dinner time, he realized he had a missed a dose. That system actually proved to be helpful in other ways. When the visiting nurse saw that the number of forgotten pills was growing, she knew the time had come for him to have more supervision with his meds.
What about the labels? Who has not had trouble reading the labels on medications, either over the counter or prescription. I remember the challenge I had when I was a 30 year old parent with my first child. There was no way in the middle of the night that I could focus on the tiny print on the bottle of liquid pain medication to see the proper dosage. And that was before I wore glasses!
Impaired vision can cause difficulty reading the labels at any age. Ask the pharmacist to provide labels in large print. For over the counter medications, caregivers can make large print labels to place on the bottles. A magnifying glass from the dollar store would also be a wise investment. Just be sure to keep it handy.
Since we are in the high tech age, it is not surprising that technology is coming to the rescue for persons who have limited vision. I have come across an innovative product that provides a talking label for medication containers. It is a hand held device that will read the label information on prescription bottles with the help of a specialty imbedded microchip. This would be a huge help to people who are visually impaired. I will find out about Canadian distributors and provide the details in the Marketplace.
We can’t ignore the topic of memory when discussing medications. What Baby Boomer does not think every day, “Am I just having a normal lapse in memory or is this more serious?” We watch for signs in our parents, ever vigilant for any indication that their memory is getting worse. But the fact is, everyone has lapses in memory. However, forgetting a medication can have serious consequences. It is important that a medication system be put into place. The best advice is to find the system that works for you or the person you are caring for.
Medication systems can range from simple to high tech. My husband has used a plastic pill organizer for years. You can get a style that simply has 7 compartments, one for each day, or you can get a larger one. Some of them have up to 4 rows for each day of the week. This helps you sort morning, lunch, dinner, and before bed medications.
Some of us will need reminders to go with the organized system of pills. And I have discovered there is a variety of high tech help.
First, I have a friend who sets a reminder on his computer. When he is at work, he tends to forget his lunch-time medications – probably because he skips lunch a lot! At noon a reminder pops up on his computer or Blackberry screen. He has to manually turn it off and when he does, he takes his pill.
But that is not all! I had no idea there were actually electronic pill boxes with a built in timer that tells you it is time to take your medications. From what I have seen so far, this works best if you have pills to take once a day or if you are able to set the timer each time it goes off to remind you of the next dosage.
There is also a system similar to the medical alarm you can wear around your neck if you have an accident in your home and need to call for help. My husband played golf with an older gentleman a few years ago who wore one around his neck. It beeped every hour to remind him to take his pill. I am not sure if it affected his golf game but that system would be a godsend for some families.
Since some medications need to be taken with meals and some between meals, a system that can be set to provide as many reminders as you may need would reduce a lot of worry and medication errors. Alarms on cell phones, watches and other personal assistive devices might be right for you.
Telephone reminders at specific times from a friend or family member may be necessary for some of us. A phone call also provides a regular check-in that things are fine with the person you are caring for.
In addition to memory issues that may impact your medication schedule, there can be other related challenges. My mother was not keen to bring out her whole carousel of medications in front of company but she was okay to use a pretty porcelain container someone gave her as a gift. It was designed to carry in a purse and suited her needs perfectly.
No matter what age or stage we are at, there comes a time when we all need a little help. There are products available these days that can certainly make living independently a little easier.
The Silver Pages will be developing product reviews – both written and video – in the Marketplace. It will be fun to find out what products are out there to make living independently a safe and enjoyable experience for all of us.
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