People are choosing more and more to “age in place” according to the US Census Bureau. It showed over the past decade, a 20% decrease in the number of seniors living in nursing homes. During the same period of time, the number of seniors living with chronic disease like diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease has continued to climb. To compound the problem, the way that we treat most chronic diseases has itself become more complicated.
If there are less seniors in nursing homes but more seniors dealing with chronic disease, where are they getting the care they need? Most of the time, these seniors manage their medications and treatments on their own. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the number of elders that were hospitalized related to medication errors and problems has doubled over the last decade. And with the complexity of care, and an aging population, that number is bound to rise.
The mixed blessing of medication.
The medications that often send seniors to the hospital are the same ones that have allowed them to live longer and healthier lives. Many of our loved ones are dependent on medications to manage their high blood pressure or diabetes, but forgetting to take the medication or accidentally taking it twice can be disastrous. There are further problems such as drug interactions and side effects.
What can family do to help manage medications?
- Make some time with your loved one to create a complete list of all their medication, including all herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications that they use. Make a copy to keep in the home, and one to carry in their wallet or purse.
- Create a personal health binder. (This is a great link to help: http://www.yourhealthcarejournal.com/_pages/health_journal.htm ) This can be an important way to track medications, appointments and changes, especially if your loved ones have chronic problems or they’re seeing multiple doctors.
- Look at through their medication cabinets for old prescriptions and expired medication. This is especially important if your loved one has some degree of confusion. The medicine cabinet can be a minefield!
- Be aware of the primary side effects of any medication and help your loved one contact their healthcare provider if they begin to experience problems.
- Make sure that your loved one is using only one pharmacy. Most pharmacies have a sophisticated “medication interaction” cross check that will prevent medication misfires before they get to you or your loved one.
- Use a medication box. If the medications are laid out in a pillbox by day of the week, it can solve many problems. First, it is easy for the person taking the medication to physically see if they took the medication, and it is easy for anyone coming in to verify that they are on track or off. A medication box can also simplify complicated medication regimens. Let’s say, the doctor wants your mother to take her thyroid meds only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, but your mother has memory issues and doesn’t always remember what day of the week it is. This can lead to mom taking too many or not at all. Lastly, one of the major causes of double dosing or skipped doses of medications are individuals who forgot whether they took their medications, so they take them again just be sure, or skip it because they don’t want to double dose. A medication box solves that problem too.
Healthcare Note: Medications, legally, can only be set up in a medication/pill box by a licensed nurse, a family member, or the person him or herself.
Even when you have a good system in place to manage medication, families are not always sure what is actually happening on the ground, especially for family living far away. When you, as a family member cannot set up the medications or make sure they’re being taken correctly or on time, there is help available! This is where home health care can bridge the gap. We at HopeBridge offer in-home medication management services by experienced, registered nurse case managers that provide a greater level of safety for elders in their homes.
We also have a caregiving staff they can remind seniors to take the medications and in certain cases, assist them with taking the medications and even getting them from the pharmacy. Further, our home care aides are trained to observe and report problems and potential side effects.
Managing medications is just one of the ways that we bridge the gap in care. Helping seniors make the most of every day while giving families peace of mind is our goal at HopeBridge.