As we age, the number of prescription bottles on the shelf seems to increase with each passing year. They are a reminder that we are no longer 25 and able to breeze through the day without managing our blood sugar, joint pain, and water retention. It’s our physician’s job to properly oversee their patients’ prescriptions, drug interactions, dosages, etc. but it’s the patient’s job to take the medications as prescribed. Many older adults do not take their medications properly, sometimes with deadly consequences. When we think about the medication schedule our aging loved one’s face, we can become anxious about their safety. Are they taking their meds? Are they taking them properly?
Why Can’t My Mom Manage Medications?
Is your mom or dad skipping our doubling up doses? Confused about why they need medication? Acting stubborn? Sight and memory betraying them? Finding out what’s at work is important. And understanding why it matters is too. Missing doses or improperly taking medications results in about 125,000 deaths per year in the United States. Estimates are that 10% of all hospitalizations are directly linked to not taking medications as prescribed. Why do so many people, especially older Americans, not follow the instructions on the label?
Cost of Medications
Many Americans are struggling to afford medications. They make a month’s worth of insulin last for two, thinking some is better than none. However, when the doctor says, “Take medication as prescribed,” the “as prescribed” is as vital as the “take medication.” Even among those who have means, saving money when on a fixed income is often front of mind. The more expensive a medication is, the less likely an older person is to believe it is necessary. Of course, skipping meds may seem like a great way to save, but in the end, the costs are much steeper when you account for additional doctors’ visits, hospitalizations, and more invasive treatments that may become necessary.
What you can’t see can hurt you
Let’s face it, the font on a prescription bottle is very small and difficult to read. After the first time you take a medication, you probably never read the label again. As people get older and vision fades, it is more likely that your loved one may not be compliant with the prescription because they can’t read it or think they already know what it says. That’s not a problem unless the prescription changes or we forget that a particular pill is supposed to be taken with food – or was that on an empty stomach? In the morning? Before bed?
Mom won’t take her medications
Some older adults do not want to think about their health, age, dependence on others, or medication. Still, others simply do not believe that medication is needed, or they doubt the legitimacy of certain medications and distrust the medical profession in general. A common refrain among the no-longer young is: “I’ve never had to take pills; why should I start now?” Unfortunately, without their blood thinner, they are at risk of stroke—and there is no getting around it.
They feel fine, or not…
If nothing hurts, their heart beats, and their lungs fill up with air, they figure they don’t need the medication. They figure maybe they know more about their own bodies than their doctor, who’s half their age anyway. While ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ sounds logical,we often can’t tell if something’s “broke.” That’s where the doctor and a few lab tests come in. Skipping their statin or blood pressure meds may not make a difference in how they feel, but the consequences have longer term implications.
Maybe they are struggling with a side effect and they way they’ve chosen to handle that is by going ‘cold turkey’
How Seniors Can Avoid Prescription Problems
Here are a few tips to help you turn their reluctance (or stubbornness) into cooperation.
- Review the medication list together. See if any of their concerns are warranted. In your review of the medications, you may find one or two that you want to revisit with the doctor. Sometimes in-home medication reviews reveal redundancies or uncover questions that should be asked. By doing so, you are respecting their agency and intelligence. If, though, their concerns are unsubstantiated or simply wrong, explain (patiently) the specific consequences of not taking a particular medication as prescribed. Involve a trusted doctor. If your explanations fall on deaf ears, make an appointment with their doctor. Maybe if your loved one hears about the importance of medications from someone else it will sit better.
- Pick your battles. Stick to the most critical meds. Consider leaving supplements and vitamins out of the conversation at least temporarily – if a physician concurs. Simplifying the list of what they need to take could go a long way in easing their concerns.
- Review side effects. Ask your parent if they are experiencing side effects. It may be unclear which medication is causing which symptom, but that is something you can sort out with the doctor. There may be alternatives that will reduce the risks of side effects.
- Hear what they’re feeling. Regardless of what your loved one is saying, try to listen to the emotion behind it. Are they scared? Confused? Do they feel manipulated, controlled, or infantilized—in which case they may be angry? Address that rather than starting a debate about facts and data.
It’s never easy to talk to someone you are worried about. They sense your concern, and the emotion in the moment gets amplified, if you approach the topic with gentleness, respect, and affection, your message can get through. For you, the changes that take place as your parents age are all new and can feel overwhelming. But for Oasis Senior Advisors, we’ve seen it before and can offer support and information that will help take away the overwhelm.
Give us a call about the various challenges you are facing as your parents age. We can help. Call us at 475.619.4123 or 914.356.1901 or complete our online form.