2008-02-06 / Seniors

Seniors Who Don't Take Their Meds

Dear Savvy Senior,

Do you have any suggestions on how I can help my mother keep up with her medicine? She takes several medications for various health conditions and I just learned she hasn't been taking them regularly.

Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned:

Medicine that goes untaken is, unfortunately, a very common problem in the U.S. In fact, according to the National Council on Patient Information and Education, a whopping three-quarters of Americans admit to not always taking their prescription medicines as directed. And medicines don't do much good if they never leave the bottle.

Skipping Doses

Your first step in helping your mom is finding out why she has not been taking her medicine. Most people skip doses because the medications cause unpleasant side effects, they're confused about how and when to take them or they forget, they can't afford them or they don't think they need to continue taking them if they start feeling better. Depending on your mother's reasons, here are some tips that may help.

Side Effects

If unpleasant side effects are causing your mom to balk on her meds, talk to her doctor, who may be able to prescribe a substitute, change her dosage or give her a brief supervised break from the drug or drugs to see if her symptoms disappear.

Confused or Forgetful

If confusion or forgetfulness is the problem, some simple suggestions that can help her stay on track include:

• Keep medicines in a place she'll notice them, like her bedside stand or kitchen counter. But don't keep them in the bathroom medicine cabinet, where they're exposed to damaging humidity and heat.

• Take medicines at the same time each day, if possible. To help her remember, have her try linking her medicine to something she does regularly like brushing her teeth or eating lunch.

• Keep a written schedule or checklist of the pills she takes and how often she should take them.

• Use calendars, pillboxes or medication timers (see www.epill.com) as reminders and to keep organized.

• Post reminder notes around the house (on the refrigerator, by the phone, etc.), or get a friend or relative to call and remind her.

• Try out a savvy new service called DailyMed (www.dailymedrx.com). This is a pharmacy dispensing system that sorts and organizes monthly prescriptions, overthe counter medications and even vitamins into single-dose packets making it easy to take the right medication at the right time of day.

I Feel Fine

Some patients may not understand why they're on a medication, and why they need to stay on it, even if they feel fine. If your mom fits into this category, her doctor can help by reminding her why she's on a particular drug and how long she needs to take it. Another tip is to monitor mom's condition. If she takes medication for hypertension, for example, checking her blood pressure regularly with a home monitor can help motivate her to continue taking her medication.

Too Expensive

If your mom can't afford her prescriptions, once again, talk to her doctor, who may be able to switch her to a cheaper alternative or generic drug, or give her free samples of the drug. Also, ask about cutting her pills in half. Pill splitting allows her to get two months' worth of medicine for the price of one, but not all pills can be split. And depending on your mom's income level, she may be able to get help through the Medicare extra help program, pharmaceutical patient assistance programs (see www.rxassist.org and www.pparx.org), state pharmacy assistance programs, or national and local charitable programs. To find out if she's eligible for these programs, visit www.benefitscheckuprx.org. Also, see www.needymeds.com.

Savvy Tips: If you have questions or concerns about the medications your mother is taking, gather up all her pill bottles (include all prescription drugs, over-thecounter medications, vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements) and take them to her primary physician or pharmacist for a drug review. Web sites like www.drugdigest.org or www.medlineplus.gov are also great resources for finding out medication information. And always remember to get her prescriptions at the same pharmacy or through one pharmacy chain. Pharmacy computer systems can automatically flag any potential drug interaction problems.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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