Alzheimer’s and Managing Medication

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Many times, people with Alzheimer’s disease aren’t able to keep track of their medications. This is one of the main reasons they move into assisted living or nursing homes. If you can help them with this, you may be able to keep your loved one at home longer. Their needs and the stage of their condition will tell you how involved you need to be.

If your loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, they’re probably used to taking their own medication. They may become unreliable and need help, but they may want to stay in charge of their pills. If so, it’s very important that they do it safely.

You can do several things to help with that:

  • Use a pill organizer box that you fill up once a week. Store the bottles of labeled medications somewhere safe. If they take medicines more than once a day, use a box that has sections labeled a.m. and p.m.
  • Make a routine to help them remember to take their medicine. If they usually take it at breakfast, put the pill box next to the place they eat or near the coffee maker. If they take it before bed, put it by their toothbrush.
  • Try to fit the medication schedule to their daily routine. Some people with Alzheimer’s sleep late. Others change their sleep pattern in other ways.
  • Use a reminder like an alarm clock or a daily phone call to help them remember their medicine when you can't be there.
  • If you don’t think they can safely handle their medicines on their own, try to work as a team. Talk with them about what reminders and assistance they would like.
  • It’s common for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s to take medications for other conditions, but not take the ones for their Alzheimer’s. That’s because they focus on the condition they already have and don’t see a need to take more medicine for another.

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In the later stages of dementia, you’ll need to take charge of your loved one’s medications. These steps can help that go smoothly:

  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist to make the medication list simpler. They might be able to cut down on how many medicines your loved one has to take or the number of times a day they take it.
  • When you give them medicine, talk to them simply and clearly. Say something like, “Here’s the pill for your arthritis. Put it in your mouth." Hand them a glass of water and say, "Have a drink of water to help the pill go down.”
  • If they won’t take their medication, don't argue or fight. Instead, stop and try to find out why. Maybe their mouth hurts or the medication tastes bad. They may not remember how to swallow a pill or what it's for. It may help to remind them that it’s the pill they asked for to ease pain, or that someone they trust thinks it will help. If they still won’t take it, try again later.
  • If they keep refusing, ask their doctor to see if there’s a physical cause. The doctor may also show you an easier way to give it, such as in a liquid or a tablet that dissolves.
  • To prevent an accidental overdose, keep all medications in a locked drawer or cabinet.
  • If you can't be there when they take their medications, get someone else to help.

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.”

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

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

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.”

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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