A recent Yale study revealed that fully 75 percent of patients 65 or older don’t understand their medication routine after leaving the hospital — or they get an incorrect prescription at discharge. No wonder one of every three seniors ends up back in the hospital! In fact, many older patients overdose on meds their first day or two at home.
Here’s what happens: patients get a dose of medicine at the hospital before discharge, then they take it again at home “at their usual time.” Sounds crazy, but the hospital’s medication record often gets buried in the sheaf of discharge papers, or the record is simply incomplete.
The risk for accidental overdoses is particularly worrisome in long-term care facilities where records may take a day or more to be updated.
Care Partners Play Essential Role in Medication Management for Seniors
Every patient needs a Care Partner to help make sure they get their medications according to the five “rights” of medication safety:
- 1. Right patient (double check the prescription and bottle!)
- 2. Right medication
- 3. Right dose
- 4. Right time
- 5. Right route (oral vs. nasal, etc.)
How can you make sure these “rights” are right every time for your loved one? Take good notes at discharge. Sweat every detail! Remember that it’s OK to ask for more time for questions.
- Go over meds your loved one was taking when admitted and those prescribed going forward.
- Discuss changes – understand the reasons for each one.
For every medication, ask:
- What is this for?
- What are the signs it’s working? What are the symptoms it’s not working?
- What are the potential side effects?
- How does this work with other meds taken (even vitamins, herbal supplements, drugstore-type aids)? Are they safe together?
- Any limitations for activity and diet?
- Who should we call if we have more questions or concerns?
Get All the Info About Meds
Web MD is a good source of medication info, and it’s always a good idea to double-check these details. The site also offers a free app to help with medication management for seniors.
- If your loved one is 65 or older, look up every prescribed drug to see if it’s on the Beers list of “caution” medications for older adults. If you find one of these prescribed for your loved one, be sure to bring this to the doctor’s attention.
- Ask questions until all info about medications, and how and when to take them, are crystal clear.
- Help your loved one create a good, safe system for managing medications at home. Think about special pillboxes, apps, alarms and checklists… anything that makes it easier to take meds safely.
- If you are stumped for ideas, ask your pharmacist.
- Make sure you bring any “old” prescriptions back to a pharmacy where they can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.
- “Old” can be a current drug that’s in a different dose – if in doubt, ask the pharmacist!
- Never discard unneeded medications in the trash at home, and don’t flush down the toilet or sink. (We don’t want these going into our water systems!)
- Check in with your loved one frequently, at least once a day for at least a month after discharge.
- Be alert for signs of trouble. If you have any concerns whatsoever, don’t hesitate to call a doctor.
All these details can be daunting, but it’s smart to be proactive. It’s downright scary that the majority of older patients, when discharged, don’t feel like they have a handle on their medication instructions. Now you know how to help!
And when it comes to managing medications for all of us, that old saying “It’s better to be safe than sorry” couldn’t be more timely.
Can You Add Anything to This List?
What steps do you take to make sure the health of your loved ones (and your own health) is protected, both in the hospital and after discharge? We’d love to hear your ideas and opinions about medication management for seniors.