Common Questions about Alzheimer’s and Medications

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Q: My loved one wants to manage their own medicines, and I'm afraid they’ll make mistakes. What can I do?

A: Look for clues that your loved one isn’t managing their medications well. Do they get refills on schedule, or need a refill before it’s due? Do you find pills left over when they should have run out? Do they show signs of potential side effects, such as being more confused, getting dizzy, or falling? If they forget to take their medication, health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure could be uncontrolled.

The best way to make sure your loved one takes their medication correctly is to have someone to watch them. If that isn’t possible, make a reminder system. You can fill a pill box every week and put it in an easy-to-reach place. An alarm clock or a pill box with a built-in alarm might also work. You could also call them every day and ask them about their medication.

If you’re worried that they’re taking too much or have stopped taking a medication on their own, let their doctor know.

Q: My loved one missed a dose of their medicine. What should I do?

A: Most of the time it’s OK to miss a dose. Just take the next dose at the normal time and in the normal amount. Never give two doses at once. This more than doubles the risk of side effects. If your loved one misses medications often, talk about it with their doctor.

Q: My loved one doesn’t want to take their medication. What should I do?

A: Try to figure out why. Is something bothering them, like a toothache or sore throat? Are you making them feel anxious or pressured -- or do they even know who you are? Do they not understand what the pill is for? Do any of the pills taste bad? Have they gagged or nearly gagged on one recently? When one is in their mouth, do they forget what it is?

Keep things calm. Be patient and guide them through the process. Encourage them to do as much as they are able and want to do. If they can't open the pill bottle, maybe they could pick the pill up themselves. You might say something to them like, "You told me you always feel better after you take it,” or, "You asked me to remind you to take the medicine for your back pain.”

If they get upset, take a break and try again later. If your frustration makes it worse, see if someone else could help. You could also talk to a doctor, nurse, or counselor.

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Q: What questions should I ask when my loved one’s doctor prescribes a new medication?

A: Try these:

  • What is its name? Does it go by any other names?
  • Why have you prescribed this?
  • Do they have to take this medication? Are there any alternatives?
  • How often and at what time of day should they take it?
  • Should they take it with food or on an empty stomach?
  • Are there any side effects that I should watch for?
  • How much does it cost? Are there less costly or free alternatives?

Q: My loved one’s medications are expensive. We can't even afford the copay. What can we do?

A: If you can't afford a medication, talk to your doctor. There may be a generic version or a less expensive alternative. It could also help to talk with a social worker. They can help you find programs that can assist with medication costs.

Q: My loved one takes insulin because of diabetes. Now that they have Alzheimer’s disease, what should I do?

A: It can be a challenge to manage insulin for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. This is especially true if they want to be involved. Older people tend to have sight problems, and Alzheimer’s affects judgment and precision. This happens even in the early stages of the illness.

It may help to use prefilled syringes or an injection pen. Ask your doctor if your loved one should stop insulin entirely. If they’ve always managed their own diabetes, get involved and learn how to do it. A nurse in your doctor’s office can teach you how to test and manage blood sugar and give insulin shots.

Q: My loved one drinks wine, beer, or cocktails in the evenings, and he's on 7 medications. Is this a problem?

A: Alcohol can make the side effects of many medications worse. If a drug makes someone dizzy, sleepy, or throws off their balance, this will be much worse with alcohol. This includes anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, and sleeping medicines. Also, alcohol can change what many medicines do. Always read the information that comes with any drug.

If your loved one uses alcohol regularly, you'll need to decide if their enjoyment is worth the risk. If you’re really worried, you could buy nonalcoholic wine, beer, or spirits for them. You might even join them for a nonalcoholic drink sometimes.

WebMD Medical Reference in Collaboration with the Cecil G. Sheps Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 16, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

AARP Public Policy Institute: “Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care.”

Alzheimer’s Association: “Medication Safety and Alzheimer’s.”

American Society on Aging: “Four Medication Safety Tips for Older Adults.”

Social Care Institute for Excellence: “When People with Dementia Refuse Help.”

Division of Dermatology, University of British Columbia: “Principles of Skin Therapy.”

Stow Health: “Supporting the Use of Medication in Care Settings: Carer Edition.”

FDA: “Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs: Questions and Answers.”

American Journal of Nursing: “Medication Management for People with Dementia.”

BMC Geriatrics: “Medication Management for People with Dementia in Primary Care: Description of Implementation in the DelpHi Study.”

British Medical Bulletin: “Adverse Drug Events in the Elderly.”

Journal of the American Geriatric Society: “Medication Safety in Older Adults: Home-Based Practice Patterns.”

Journal of Clinical Nursing: “Managing Medications: The Role of Informal Caregivers of Older Adults and People Living with Dementia. A Review of the Literature.”

Journal of Nursing and Healthcare of Chronic Illness: “The Process of Medication Management for Older Adults with Dementia.”

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