- Stephen Boulanger
Educating residents and their family members/responsible parties about medication services is vital as they make important decision concerning their therapies. It can be intimidating and often people aren’t sure when or who to ask for help. Assisted living communities are uniquely positioned to educate and inform.
There’s a lot of information packed into generally unfamiliar terms and it can be difficult to package it in a way that’s easy for those outside the healthcare industry to understand. So we put together a guide any assisted living community can utilize to educate residents and their family/responsible parties. Feel free to take this information and package it into brochures or information sheets to help educate the residents and families in your community. We strongly recommend sharing the following information with your residents who are independent with their medications.
The Importance of Medications
The medications utilized in our community help our residents live healthier, more productive lives by treating diseases and reducing symptoms. Whether prescribed by a doctor or obtained over the counter (non-prescription), medication is crucial.
Medicine isn’t always as simple as swallowing a pill. Often it includes medicine with very specific instructions for how to take it, when, how often and how much. On top of this, medicine often requires daily decision-making.
The best way to get the most out of your medication is to be informed and be an active participant. This means taking an active role in decisions concerning your treatment, following your treatment plan, watching for problems and getting help when needed.
Your Active Role in Decisions About Your Treatment
It’s very important to ask questions so you have a thorough understanding of how your medications work and what you can expect as you take them. Taking the time to ask questions and discuss your concerns with your doctor now can help you avoid problems later. If you have a question at home, write it down so you remember to ask your doctor about it at your next visit.
Many people are afraid of bothering their doctor with too many questions, but your doctor is there to help and knows that you need information in order to make the right decisions about your care. Bring a friend or family member to your appointments so you can talk with them about what you learn and your options. This can help you make the best choices concerning your medication, especially when you’re not feeling well.
Your pharmacist is also a very good source of information. Many people don’t realize that they can talk with their pharmacist, but these specialists are highly trained and extremely knowledgeable. They can help you gain a thorough understanding of your medications and how they work.
When you receive a new prescription, some points to cover with your doctor or pharmacist about each medicine include:
The risks and benefits.
How often you or your doctor will need to check the effects of the medication, either to see how effectively it’s working or to monitor the amount of medication in your blood.
Medication you are already taking. It’s very important that your doctor and pharmacist is aware of all the medicine you are taking as well as the dose and instructions for each one. Keep a list and include prescription medicine as well as over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, laxatives, vitamins, home remedies—anything you take, whether regularly or periodically. This is very important because medicines, even home remedies, will interact with each other in your body. If your doctor or pharmacist knows all the medications you take, they can avoid giving you any new medication that won’t work well with one of them.
What’s important to you in a medication. It’s very important that you tell your doctor whether you want a medicine with the fewest side effects or the fewest daily doses. You might want a liquid form if you have trouble swallowing tablets or a less expensive form if you’re concerned with the cost (potentially generic or another lower-cost option). You may want the medicine your doctor believes will work best. Whatever it is, make sure to inform your doctor about what is important to you in your treatment.
Allergies. Tell your doctor if you have any allergies to medications or if you have had any troubling side effects from medication in the past.
Other treatments. Be sure to let your doctor know if you have any illnesses or problems that another doctor or health professional is treating you for.
Following Your Treatment Plan
Medication regimens are designed to make medicines work properly. Taking your medicine at the time and in the amount prescribed is very important, so if you have any questions, concerns or problems with taking a medicine exactly as prescribed, contact your doctor or pharmacist. They can answer your questions and address your concerns or problems in order to provide you with the best regiment.
As you and your doctor determine the best method of treatment, keep asking questions. Some things you might want to cover during this process include:
The name of the medication and what it’s supposed to do.
How and when to take the medicine. Be sure you understand how much to take, how often, when and for how long. If there are any terms or directions you don’t understand, ask until you are confident in your understanding.
Which foods, drinks, other medicines or activities to avoid while taking your medication.
Any side effects you might experience and what to do if they occur.
Refills. Can you refill the medication? If so, how often? Will you need another appointment to do so?
What to do if you miss a dose.
Any written information you can take home. The majority of pharmacies have information sheets you can take with you.
Any concerns you have about using your medicine.
Whether you are taking your medicine as directed. Some people stop taking their medicine, take a lower dose or skip doses due to side effects or other factors. Don’t let guilt or embarrassment hold you back from telling your doctor this very important information. He or she needs to know in order to treat you appropriately and may have suggestions that will help.
Watch for Problems and Get Help Solving Them
If you experience any trouble with your medication, contact your doctor and pharmacist right away. The majority of issues can be solved if you know what to watch for and talk with your healthcare professional.
Here is a list of things to watch for that will help you stay informed, be aware of how your treatment is progressing and take note of any problems as early as possible:
Test results. Ask about the results of tests that show how your medicine is working. For example, if you take medicine for high blood pressure, monitor your blood pressure. This will show you how the medicine is working and if there are any problems with it.
Necessity. Ask whether the medication is still needed. Some medicines make you feel better but you must continue taking them in order to stay well. Others can be discontinued after a certain point, so be sure to ask.
How are you feeling? Be aware of how you’ve been feeling since you started taking a medication. Do you think it’s helping?
Problems. Have you experienced side effects or any new problems since you started taking a medication? Talk to your doctor or pharmacist immediately. Side effects are wide-ranging and can include things like dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, rashes and other unexplained symptoms.
New medications. If another doctor gives you any new medications or you take any new non-prescription (over-the-counter) medications, tell your doctor. This is extremely important, especially if you are seeing more than one healthcare professional.
Making the Most of Your Pharmacy
Pharmacists are there to help. Every time you pick up your medication, take some time to talk with your pharmacist and ask any questions you have about your medications. You’ll want to cover the same questions you discussed with your doctor concerning your treatment plan (see “Following Your Treatment Plan” above).
Try to use one pharmacy for all of your medications and give them a complete list of all the medicines you take, including those that are over-the-counter (non-prescription)—even vitamins and home remedies can interact with prescriptions you’re taking, so be sure to include everything you take on this list, even if it seems unimportant. This will help your pharmacist keep track of your medicines, identify any duplicate therapy or potential interactions between the medications you take and help solve any problems you may have with your medications.
Storing Your Medication
Keep all your medications locked in one cool, dry place in your apartment or room. If any emergencies arise, this will help your doctor review all of your medications quickly and easily. Be sure this storage space is out of the reach of any children who may visit, especially if you have medications in non-childproof containers.
The bathroom medicine cabinet and kitchen are not good places to store medicine because the heat and moisture found in these places can cause medicines to deteriorate. A locked container in your living room or bedroom is a better option.
Store all of your medications in one place, unless they require refrigeration or are say “store in a cool place” on the label. When storing medication in your refrigerator, keep them separate from all other items, ideally in a box or container reserved exclusively for medicine. Store medicines you take orally away from medications and other items you use externally, such as creams, ointments or reagent tablets. You can separate these by using zip lock bags.
Keep your medication in its original container and do not mix different medicines together in one container. In an emergency, mixed medications will make it difficult or impossible to identify your medications.
Discard expired and discontinued medications. Every medicine you receive will have an expiration date. Be sure to check these dates and discard any medication that has expired. When your doctor discontinues a medication, discard it as well.
Never share your medications with another person. This is very important because you never know how a medication will affect someone else or interact with medications they are already taking.
Your assisted living community provides services to help with ordering, storage, reminders and assistance taking your medications. If you’re not sure what services we provide, be sure to ask. Our staff understands that medicine only works if it is taken correctly, and we’re be happy to help.