Around 75 million elderly citizens in India suffer from a chronic disease, according to the first wave of the Longitudinal Ageing Study in India. These conditions may require medical intervention, and often a mix of different medications to treat various symptoms. But, as more medications or supplements are prescribed, it leads to the possibility of mixing doses, or forgetting them, which can be dangerous. Along with this, there are other factors that make managing medications for senior citizens all the more important:

  • Multiple doctors and conditions: Many elderly people have multiple conditions, and may consult different doctors for each. This could lead to a care plan that isn’t fully coordinated—it’s vital that each practitioner consulted is aware of any other course of treatment as certain medications cannot be taken together.
  • Accidental and intentional discontinuation: While some senior citizens may have memory problems that make it difficult to track when to take what medicine, some may deliberately skip doses for different reasons. If the latter is taking place, it is a sign to find out why they are doing so and address that together. For the former, a more supervised medication management plan is needed to ensure that the correct dose is taken at the right time.
  • Change in the body’s reaction to medication: Ageing changes the way the body reacts to medication. It can start metabolising different drugs at different speeds, leading to a change in effectiveness or the development of new side effects. Polypharmacy, when multiple medications are being taken, can have an impact on the central nervous system, leading to an increased risk of developing problems with cognition, balance, memory, etc. Age-related changes also include a change in the way the kidneys and liver filter out medicines and toxins from the body.

In order to stay on top of your loved one’s treatment plan, there are certain things one can do to make medication management both organised and safe.

  • Review the course of medication: Note down all the medicines prescribed by the doctors being consulted, and the dosage of each, as well as any additional vitamins, over-the-counter drugs or supplements that are being taken. Reviewing this list will ensure that there are no contraindications, and will also help you keep track of what’s being taken. It could also help to note what each drug is being used for. Have this list on you every time you consult with a doctor so that everyone is on the same page. Noting the start date can be of use if the medicine has been prescribed for a fixed duration. Remember to ask questions if you need clarification on possible side effects or dosage, or if any foods are to be avoided when taking certain medications.
  • Set up reminders: Some medicines are to be taken at specific times; setting a recurring alarm or reminder can help keep track of this. For some people, adding it to their calendar helps them remember—it’s important to use the method that works for you and your loved one.
  • Use a pill dispensing system: There are pill dispensers available that both keep the medicines organised, and are also automated to give the medicine at the set time.
  • Storage:  Keeping the medicines currently being taken in an organised manner is one aspect, but storing the more potent ones in a not-so-accessible place is equally important to prevent anyone from misusing it and from self-prescription. It’s also common to find old and expired medicines in the house, so regularly checking the labels and disposing of them in the correct way (speak to your healthcare practitioner about the right way to dispose of medicines) away will avoid confusion.
  • Communicate: The caregiving team involves multiple people: the primary caregiver, the healthcare professionals, additional caregivers like family and friends. With everyone working towards the same goal, communicating is vital for the care plan to be effective. Whether it’s keeping everyone abreast of what medications are being taken, understanding and relaying the side effects your loved one may be experiencing, or the overall progress—everyone should be on the same page.
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