Take the Headache Out of Managing Meds

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By Danielle Verderame

The older we get, the more we need a little bit of help staying healthy with medications and/or supplements. Managing these medications can sometimes be tricky without guidance from professionals.

We spoke with local elder care experts about the best practices of medication management.

Their advice, plus some new advances in pharmaceutical services, can help you get organized… and stay that way.

DO plan ahead for medication refills.

The first step to managing medications? Set up a schedule for getting your refills.

As a clinic nurse, Carol Barker, LPN, assists Independent Living residents at The Summit, a 143-acre campus for retirees located in Wyndhurst. When asked about the top challenges for members of their community, Barker lists mobility and memory.

For seniors who may not have an easy way to access a pharmacy quickly, you need to schedule trips in advance. At The Summit, they remove this barrier by offering transportation to the pharmacy, medical appointments and errands.

DON’T be afraid to get some help remembering to take your meds.

Barker tells the story of a diabetic resident who struggled to take her medications correctly. To help, Barker set up a medication system “…that only allowed her to take her meds at a certain time and would alert her if she did not take them.”

As a result, the resident was able to live independently for a longer period of time.

For seniors who have several prescriptions to take, a plan to help you remember dosages and refills for medications is crucial. The Summit offers an in-house caregiver program to help residents with refills and other management practices.

DON’T keep medication in the bathroom cabinet.

“The bathroom cabinet is not a good place to store medications. Moisture and heat can affect drugs,” Barker says. Instead, she recommends finding a dry and temperature-controlled place to store your pills. Otherwise, the medication will lose potency.

Pills may be compromised if they have the following characteristics.

• Change in color

• Strange smell or taste

• Lose their form (crumbling, melting or clumping)

When in doubt, a pharmacist or doctor can help advise whether your medication needs to be replaced.

DO maintain a current list of medications.

Barker encourages their residents to keep a list of current medications, including over-the-counter medications. This means vitamins and supplements, too.

As she explains, “The hospital doesn’t always have a list.” Meaning, if you need urgent care, the list could prevent harmful interactions. Additionally, it can help doctors when diagnosing conditions by eliminating variables.

DON’T take medications straight from the bottle.

Recently, some pharmacies are offering “pill packs.” With this service, the pharmacist arranges the medications by day, not into separate bottles.

Then, you can simply open the package at the appropriate time. This helps you avoid the confusion of sorting out daily dosages for multiple medications.

DO ask about side effects.

While it can be intimidating to push your doctor to explain the details of your medications, it’s an important part of managing your health.

Elizabeth Nicely manages McGurk House, an affordable retirement community located near Lynchburg General Hospital. She has noticed many of their residents often don’t understand side effects or the importance of different dosages and instructions. “They often times end up placing themselves in dangerous situations because of the lack of knowledge of their own medication,” she says.

Learn to be your own advocate and work with the doctor to understand your prescriptions.

DON’T keep old or expired medications.

Properly disposing old or expired medications is the most responsible action.

“We try to remind our residents of the importance of taking medication correctly. Making sure medications are labeled in the correct way, and in a way that meets the needs of each individual resident, as well as the importance of proper disposal of medication that is expired or no longer being used,” Nicely says.

To properly dispose of medications, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes the following recommendations:

1. Medicine take-back programs are often provided by local law enforcement.

2. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hosts National Prescription Drug Take Back events with temporary collection sites.

3. Permanent collection sites can be found in some hospitals and clinics.

4. You can dispose in household trash after mixing with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds.

5. You can flush down the toilet if recommended on the prescription label. The FDA also keeps a list of medications that should be flushed immediately when they are no longer needed.

In most instances, your pharmacist can advise the safest way to dispose of your drugs.

Independent living starts with taking charge of your healthcare and prescriptions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek help from a professional. With these tips, managing your medication can be a less painful experience.

Learn more about The Summit at www.summitlynchburg.com.
Learn more about McGurk House at www.mcgurkhouse.org.

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