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Why Your Aging Parent May Not Be Taking Their Medications — and How to Work Together Toward Healthy Medication Habits

Remember when you used to fake being sick just to skip school? Then your parents threatened to give you medicine? All of a sudden, a pop quiz seemed better than cherry-flavored cough syrup.

If only it were that easy with your parents when they refuse to take their prescribed medication.

Reverse psychology might not work on them because they may have valid reasons for not wanting to take their medication. Caregivers for people with cognitive impairments often report having difficulties with getting their parent to take medication on time. The adjustment to juggling prescriptions can be hard for them.

In fact, about 125,000 people die yearly because they didn’t follow their prescription medication plans.

Here are four reasons why your aging parent may not take their medication — and how you can help them get back on track.

1. They Had a Bad Experience With Side Effects

Medications can cause side effects, and these can range from minor annoyances to disruptions in everyday functioning. In some cases, they can severely affect your parent’s quality of life. So, if your parent has already tried a medication — and has had a bad bout of side effects — they may be hesitant to keep going.

Ask your parent if they’ve been experiencing side effects. And even if they say “no,” be on the lookout for effects. Your parent may be embarrassed to fill you in, or might not even notice.

Common red flags of side effects include:

  • Cognitive problems, such as memory loss or confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Abnormal movements, like rocking or thrusting of the pelvis, facial grimacing, or tremors
  • Rapid eye blinking
  • Loss of appetite or change in taste preferences
  • Sleep problems, such as insomnia or drowsiness

Encourage your parent to talk to their provider if they are experiencing these symptoms. Their provider may be able to adjust their dose or switch medications to control side effects.

And since some of the symptoms might not be due to medications at all — tremors could actually be Parkinson’s disease, or memory problems could simply be due to aging — their provider can make sure that they aren’t experiencing other underlying health problems.

2. They Don’t Understand Why They’re on Multiple Medications

It’s simple — your parent may not always remember why they were prescribed medication, or why they are taking multiple prescriptions. In some cases, each health care provider has a list of medications they’ve prescribed for your parent, and keeping track of everything may be challenging.

To ensure that they understand what they are taking — and why:

  • Ask their provider to explain what each medication is being taken for and how it works. Make sure you both understand these explanations. It is okay to ask your parent’s provider to re-explain if either one of you does not understand. It may also help to write this information down to reference later on.
  • Ask their provider or pharmacist to check that none of their medications — including any prescriptions, supplements, and over-the-counter medications — interact with one another, which can cause potentially dangerous side effects.
  • Follow up with their health care providers to ensure their current prescriptions are up to date. Depending on the situation, their health conditions may also cause them to need new medications over time, or they may no longer need a certain prescription.

Also, ask your parent if they notice a difference in how they feel. Your parent may not always feel comfortable with opening up to their health care providers because they are embarrassed. Reassure them that they can discuss anything with you and with their providers.

3. Their Medication Costs Too Much

Prescription medication costs can be high, so some people don’t refill them — especially if they aren’t covered by their insurance. They may even ration out their medications to extend their supply.

The cost of prescription medication is something to discuss with their provider or pharmacist — especially if your parent is living on a limited income.

Questions to ask your parent’s provider or pharmacist — or a hospital social worker — include:

  • What is the total cost for all their prescriptions?
  • Is there a generic alternative that is less expensive?
  • How can my parent apply for a pharmaceutical assistance program for low-income seniors?

A hospital social worker can be a great source of support and guidance as well. Social workers can connect you and your parents with resources to help with affording medications, arranging for transportation to and from appointments, supporting you as the caregiver, and more.

Cost Saving Tips

  • Ask your provider or pharmacist to check your parent’s insurance policy and, when possible, prescribe preferred medications. These are the drugs that insurance provides the most coverage for, meaning they’re generally the least expensive.
  • Research brand name drugs or generics within the same medication family that are less expensive — but just as effective.
  • Inquire about pill splitting with their medical provider. Some medications come in higher dosages that allow for one pill to be taken over more than one day. Generally, there is no upcharge for requesting a higher dosage over a lower dosage.
  • Shop around with different pharmacies. Sometimes pharmacies that offer commonly prescribed medications will have cheaper prices than their competitors.

4. They Simply Forget to Take Their Medication

Juggling multiple prescriptions can be hard on anyone, especially your aging parent. Whether they are living with memory loss or simply missed the medication reminder alert on their cellphones — there are options you can put in place to help them stay on track.

For example, you can get pillboxes to remind them when to take their medication. These boxes sometimes come with labels you can fill in with the time the medication needs to be taken. Other times, they may come with a built-in alarm to alert them when it’s time for their next dose. Smartphone apps and reminder alerts can also help you and your parents keep track of their medication schedule.

Also, involve your parent in developing solutions to help them remember to take their medication. Propose a few ideas and ask them about which methods for remembering would help them the most.

Don’t hesitate to encourage them to talk to their provider — or to talk to them yourself, if you have your parent’s permission. Improving medication adherence is vital for keeping your parent’s health in check.

If you have any questions about medications, schedule a visit with a clinical pharmacist at HealthWise at (785) 354-6787.

To schedule an appointment with a primary care provider, call (785) 270-4440.

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