Safe Medication Management for Alzheimer’s

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It’s likely that your loved one takes several medications. Some may have been prescribed before they had Alzheimer’s, while others will be new to them. Chances are, they’re less able to keep track of their medicines than before and they’ll need your help.

You’ll need to keep a few things in mind to manage their medications safely:

  • Read labels. Know what all the medications are for and how your loved one should take them.
  • Be sure your loved one is only taking medicine they really need and that the dose is right. Have their doctor go over the list about every 6 to 12 months. They may be able to stop the ones they don’t need or change a dose. This means your loved one may be able to take fewer medications and may have fewer side effects.
  • Keep an up-to-date list of all medications in an easy-to-find place. Be sure it has the name of everything your loved one takes. This includes prescriptions, vitamins, herbals, and supplements. It should also have the dose for each one and how and when to take it.
  • Know the risks, benefits, and potential side effects of each one.
  • Make sure they take the right one at the right time.
  • Watch for side effects.
  • Know the risks of how each one might react to foods, supplements, and nonprescription medications.
  • Watch to see that your loved one doesn’t take their medicines without your knowledge.
  • Be sure to refill their prescriptions.

When you manage medications for an older person with Alzheimer’s, follow this rule for over-the-counter medicines: Start low and go slow. Older people react more strongly to medications, so they usually need less than a young adult. If you start with a low dose, you can identify side effects when they are not too severe. Doctors often do this with prescription drugs as well.

It’s also important to know the three types of medications that you can use to help prevent or treat medical problems.

  • Prescription medications are available only when prescribed by a doctor or nurse practitioner. Usually, you give the prescription to a pharmacist. Sometimes you can order them by mail. They can either come as brand-name or generic. A brand-name medication usually comes from only one drug company and is more expensive. A generic medication is usually the same formula, but less expensive.
  • Over-the-counter medications don’t need a prescription. You usually buy them in a drugstore or pharmacy. Examples include cough medicine, antacids, or pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. They can have the same risks as prescription medicines. This is especially true if you combine the two. It's important to read the label carefully and follow directions.
  • Supplements, vitamins, and herbal medications may react to other medications. This makes it important to tell your doctor and pharmacist if your loved one takes them, and in what dose. If they have trouble when they take a supplement, see if there are other ways to get the benefits. For example, they could eat healthy foods to get more vitamins, or drink calcium-enriched juices.

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:

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

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

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

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.”

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.”

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