BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP APRIL 20 - APRIL 26, 2018 25
A family caregiver’s medication
BY ALICIA SCHWARTZ, R.N.
Picture this: Your elderly father
lives alone and sees a doctor
for several chronic conditions,
but his latest checkup has you troubled.
His high blood pressure has
been creeping up again, chronic pain
seems unmanageable and, concerned
about keeping diabetes under control,
the doctor has prescribed new
When you stop by for a visit with
your dad, you encounter unopened
prescriptions and over-the-counter
medications, half-empty containers
of outdated drugs and an assortment
of loose pills you cannot even begin
For many caring for an
older loved one with several chronic
conditions, this scenario may be
heart-breaking and familiar. With
more than 83 percent of people
over the age of 65 taking prescription
medications, the possibility of
mismanagement -- including overdose
or underdose -- is a growing
concern for family caregivers.
While balancing several medications
can prove difficult for
anyone, risks for the elderly can
be complicated by memory loss
as well as vision and hearing
The average senior takes more
than five different pills daily, not
including over-the-counter drugs
or supplements, which can leave
them more vulnerable to adverse
In fact, researchers at the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention
found that senior citizens are twice
as likely to visit the emergency
room due to adverse drug reactions
as their younger counterparts.
At VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans,
my colleagues and I work closely
with those in our care and their
family caregivers to reconcile all
medications following a doctor’s appointment
or trip to a specialist. We
use new electronic medical record
systems that send reminders and
alerts to keep patients on schedule.
You can help your loved one
manage their medications safely,
too. Here are a few guidelines to
help navigate medication adherence
with family members and
their doctors or pharmacist:
1. Make a List. Keep a personal
record of all the meds your loved
one is taking, including the name of
the medication, the dosage instructions,
the reason it was prescribed
and the name and number of the
doctor who prescribed it.
Don’t forget to include overthe
counter meds and herbal supplements,
too. If your loved one’s
medication regimen is too complex
to keep track of, ask your doctor if
a service like MedMinder, which
sends caregiver alerts when a dosage
is missed, might be something
2. Take All Medications to All
of Your Doctors. An estimated
100,000 older Americans are
hospitalized for adverse drug
reactions yearly, and three of the
most commonly prescribed drugs –
insulin, the blood thinner warfarin
(aka Coumadin) and the heart drug
digoxin – are most often the cause,
according to a study by researchers
at the CDC published in the New
England Journal of Medicine.
If you or your loved one is unsure
about any prescriptions, put
everything in a bag and take them
to your doctor. Ask for help figuring
out what you are taking and
how to avoid taking medications
incorrectly. Being knowledgeable
about your meds is the first step in
preventing medication errors.
Most importantly, don’t leave the
doctor’s office without an updated
list of all your meds. The doctor
may have changed or discontinued
a prescription and it is easy
to forget such changes by the time
you get home. For added assurance,
share the list with your pharmacist
who can help keep track of and adjust
3. Ask Questions. Don’t be afraid
to speak up. Every time a new med
is recommended or prescribed,
ask the physician and pharmacist
these key questions: Why has
this been prescribed? How does
it work? How can I tell if the drug
is working? What are the possible
side effects? Is this safe to take with
other prescriptions and over-thecounter
I also recommend asking about
the risk of taking medications
with different foods and drinks.
Something that seems innocent
may cause an adverse reaction.
Grapefruit juice, licorice, chocolate,
alcohol and other food and beverages
are known to increase side-effect
risks with certain medications.
4. Change Dosage. Overwhelmed?
Ask your prescribing
physicians about possibly lowering
the number of different pills taken
throughout the day. Studies show
that the more pills a person takes,
the less likely they are to adhere to
the schedule and dosage.
5. Store Smart. Don’t keep your
meds in the bathroom or the kitchen.
Many people are unaware that
moisture and heat in these areas
can impact medication potency.
Knowing how to take and store
your medications properly not only
helps them work more effectively, it
could save your life.
And remember, it’s okay to ask
for help! According to the Family
Caregiver Alliance, family caregivers
spend an average of over
24 hours per week solely providing
care! It’s not a sign of weakness
to ask for help. Speak with your
doctor if managing medications is
becoming a problem.
In addition to the solutions mentioned
here, you may be eligible for
assistance from a licensed home
care provider such as VNSNY or
Partners in Care. Even a home
health aide who comes once a week
can provide helpful reminders for
forgetful loved ones—and that can
bring everyone peace of mind.
For more information about
VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans
from the not-for-profit Visiting
Nurse Service of New York, please
call 1-888-867-6555 or visit www.
Alicia Schwartz is care coordinator,
VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans.