Even though Mother was safe and secure in Independent Living (IL) in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), we quickly realized that managing her prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines was a challenge of its own. With 10 prescription medicines and 4 OTCs, the variables of continuing supply with many expirations and prescription renewals combined with generic vs. brand names, dosages and time-of-day preferences were an overwhelming task for her … and her caregivers! Fortunately, we devised a Weekly Schedule and medicine reconciliation program that allowed her to manage her own meds (with our assistance) that has now become a My Health Care Manager computer-based decision aid.
However, loading her pill tray every week and managing the time for her diabetes blood sugar tests and consumption of the pills became (and remains) an ongoing challenge. Until becoming exposed to the issues of polypharmacy and older adults, I didn’t understand that normally-prescribed medicines and dosages affect many seniors differently – sometimes even causing symptoms such as confusion and loss of balance. Even multiple medication regimes that were tolerated in the past can at any moment cause problems or unwanted symptoms.
When trying to get my hands around the multiple medications challenge, it became clear that no single health care provider had information on everything that was being taken by Mother. Each knew what he or she had prescribed, but the rest of their knowledge was based on answers given to the common question, “What medicines are your taking?” at office visits. Often confused over generic vs. brand names, dosages, and omitting OTC products, older adults often can’t be counted on to correctly answer this important question. In developing My Health Care Manager’s suite of decision aids, we added a letter that the senior can choose to send to all of their health care providers (or only to the ones they designate).
The letter lists the providers, their prescribed medicines, and any other OTC products being taken by the senior. Several doctors have remarked that this simple summary of information is not available from any single source in our health care system. You might try this important task on your own if you are immersed in eldercare. We’ll have more on managing medicines in my next blog.