When I was my Mom’s caregiver, one of the most difficult and scary things I had to deal with was managing medications. After all, a senior citizen’s medications can make all the difference between a healthy, happy elderly loved one and…well, never mind the alternative.
At one point, my 95-year-old mom was taking 19 pills a day! With a total of 11 medications in all forms (we had pills, capsules, and patches. Toward the end of her life, there was liquid also), I had to find some sort of way of managing medications to assure that 1) we always had refills available and 2) that her medications would be at hand even when I wasn’t home and she was being cared for by a paid caregiver. Let me tell you, watching me fill the 7-day pill containers on Sunday nights was not for the faint of heart.
In this article, I’m going to give you some tips on how I managed my Mom’s medications. I’m not a doctor, just a now-retired caregiver so these tips are coming just from my own experience.
Funny story: Mom took a fair amount of pills that said not to drink alcohol on the label. But, we were into quality of life over quantity (we did pretty good – we got her to 95 years old!). Anyway, one day, I mentioned to her that maybe we should knock off happy hours (a sad day indeed). After a pause, Mom looked at me and said “Wait a minute. I’m too old to die young, right?” She got that drink and quite a few more on different occasions.
NOTE: A reader mentioned in a comment that not all pills should be split ahead of time due to loss of potency. Check with the doctor to see if these type of pills can be pre-cut and stored in pill containers.
Some Tips On How To Manage A Senior Citizen’s Medications
The below are some tips and tricks I picked up along the way as I became my Mom’s caregiver. As I mentioned, managing her medications gave me my own heart attack – I was so very worried that I’d screw up. But, in the end, I didn’t. She died as peacefully as she had lived, right in my arms in my own living room. Her life, and death, was a success all the way around.
- Write on a calendar the day and time that you’re going to be setting up your senior citizen loved one’s medications. I’d also suggest doing this caregiving task the same time each week, or each month if you have a 31-day pill management system.
- Don’t assume that the pharmacist is giving you the right prescription. I worked for a pharmacy for 11 years when I was young and I know of what I type. Always open the bottles at the pharmacy before you pay and check the contents. If there is any question, ask the pharmacist to bring out the bottle from which he or she dispensed.
- If your elderly loved one has a pill that is to be split, ask the pharmacist if they can do it for you. In some cases, especially in independent pharmacies, they will provide this service.
- If you have pills that have to be split and the pharmacist can’t do it, when you get home, split every pill in the bottle. Don’t split some and leave others unsplit. It’s much easier (and way less confusing) to just get this task done once.
- Before sorting pills (I called it being a pull pusher…), turn off your cell phone, the tv, the radio or any distractions. You’re going to need to really focus on the task at hand.
- Open just one bottle at a time – just one! Spill some pills into your hand and then divide them into the pill containers. Put extra pills back in the bottle and move the bottle to a separate area so that you are 100% sure you don’t need to use that medication again.
- Check you work carefully. I did this by knowing how many pills Mom took every morning, noon and evening. After I finished filling the pill containers, I’d carefully count in each of the pill compartments to make sure I had the right amount of pills.
- Take a picture of a filled container and post on the refrigerator. I did make a few mistakes that my excellent caregiver, Carina, caught as she gave pills to my Mom. If there was any discrepancy, Carina could look at the picture posted on my refrigerator and figure out what was added or missing.
- When dealing with skin patches, make sure to change them according to the prescription dose, ie, every third day, etc. And, vary the application site. You do not want to put a clean medication patch right over where you took off the old one.
- When administering eye drops, it’s easiest and most painless is you have your elderly loved one tilt their head back and put the eye drop right in the area where the eye meets the nose. The drop will run right into the eye.
Automatic Pill Dispensers Can Make Pill Delivery Easier
Depending on how many pills your senior citizen friend takes a day, an automatic pill dispenser can be your best friend. There are a few different types of automatic pill dispensers, from the simplest system that dispenses 2 or 3 times a day to more robust systems that include a locking medication holder which can dispense pills upwards to 26 times a day. Especially if you have a lot of caregivers come into assist you in caring for your loved one, you should consider a pill dispenser that locks. I had a caregiver steal a large quantity of my Mom’s pills once….
Each automatic pill dispenser system offers something different, including a wide variation of prices. So, to see more details, click each picture below.
Tamper Proof Automatic Medication Pill Dispenser Locked with Keys. Automatic pill box alarm system for home use. Locked pill box can dispense up 4 times per day. Refill pill dispenser weeklyAutomatic Pill Dispenser for home or institutional use. e-pill MD1 MedTime XL. Original Swedish Design. Complete with two medication trays and two metal keysMed-e-lert Automatic Pill Dispenser 28 Day Single Dose / 7 Day 4 Times – White Lid
7-Day Pill Containers
When Mom first came to live with me, I just tried to figure out her pills a day at a time. I kept all medications in the bottles and just ran through all bottles at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As you can imagine, it didn’t take me long to develop my own white hair with this non-existent pill management system! So, out of necessity, I started to do searches online of pill management items. Boy, did I find a lot!
I used a weekly pill container for my Mom so that I had at least a week lead time to get to the pharmacy for her medication refills. This way, I was certain to never run out of meds. And, a week was enough lead time for the pharmacist to contact the doctor for refills, if needed.
Hint: when looking for weekly pill systems, consider how many different times a day your elderly loved one taked medications. If they only take it morning and night, you can get a system with just 2 compartments per day. For my Mom, I used a system that had 4 compartments – breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime, like the Apex system below. I liked this particular system as it was easy to open each compartment for filling.
31 Day Pill Organizer Systems
MedCenter (70265) 31 Day Pill Organizer with Reminder SystemI would have gotten one of these 31-day pill organizers if I had known they even existed. Alas, I just now found them. But, these medication organizers are ideal, especially for senior citizens who live mostly on their own with just period check-ins from others.
The MedCenter system shown to the left has 31 separate containers divided into 4 compartments. Each container is numbered from 1 – 31.
The coolest thing about the MedCenter pill organizer is that it also has a talking alarm clock that will alert your elderly loved one when it’s time for pills. AND, the timer on the alarm clock even shows which pill box to use! Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Just make a date on the 1st of every month for coffee and donuts with an elderly loved one (they’ll love you even more for coming by) and fill their pill box for the month. While you’re there, set up to 4 daily reminders on the clock. The clock resets every midnight so you can set it and forget it!
Here’s some other 31-day pill organizers on Amazon.com. The MedCenter pill organizer on the left is the same as the one above but it’s offered without the alarm clock. To be honest with you, for $8 more, I’d get the one above that comes with the talking alarm clock:
A good pill splitter is an invaluable part of managing medications. Getting my Mom’s high blood pressure under control took some medical management. Once we identified which high blood pressure medication was going to work for her, the doctor and I then had to find the right dosage. Since I became a pretty good caregiver, the doctor knew that I could find the dosage myself – with the help of a pill splitter. Here’s how I did it (note: this is NOT medical advice; you should always consult a physician and get his or her approval before trying this! I had the Dr. approval to go forward).
The doctor prescribed my Mom a pretty hefty dosage blood pressure pill. We started Mom off on half a pill, which is where my trusty pill splitter came into play. I then took her blood pressure after a few hours to determine whether the dosage I gave her was controlling her bp or whether she needed an additional boost. If her blood pressure was lower but still to0 high, I’d us the pill splitter to split the other half into quarters and gave that to her. I’d check her bp again after a suitable interval of time.
Once I found what I thought was the right dose, we got her checked out at the doctor. Sure enough, 100% of the time, I’d nailed it. Again, this system is NOT TO BE TRIED without consulting a physician.
Not all pills should be split! Time released pills (such as some blood pressure medicines) cannot be spilt (ever!).
Hint: pills that can be split will usually have a score down the middle of the pill where you’d split it. Check with the doctor before splitting any medication.
Pill Grinders and Pill Crushers
As my Mom entered the last phase of her life, it became too difficult for her to swallow pills, even half pills. So, the logical decision now was to crush them and mix them with a bit of applesauce.
So, that’s what I did. I started out with a handheld pill grinder. The one I used was like the 1st link below – it’s 2 cups that you put the pill in between. The top cup has a grinding thingee on the bottom. Put the top cup on top of the medication, press and twist and the pill is ground into smaller pieces.
Ultra Pill Crusher (Pulverizer) By Apex MedicalEzy Dose Cut and Crush Pill Splitter and CrusherThe Equadose Pill Grinder. The Best Pill Crusher Ever! Crushes Multiple Tablets at Once. Great for Pets too!RSVP White Marble Mortar and PestleHealthsmart Pill Crusher, RedVitaCarry Pill Grinder (Crusher)
Mom had one particular pill that just was impossible to grind. I mean, this thing was hard! But, it was no match for my handy dandy pill crusher which reduced the pill to a very fine powder. We have the first one listed below.
Managing a senior citizen’s medications can take practice and learned skills you’ll pick up along the way. Everyone has a different system; the above systems are ones that worked for me with managing medications.
Do you have other ideas for managing medications for a senior citizen? If so, or just to let me know you were by, please leave me a comment below.