How to Manage Medications for a Loved One 

Amy Barczy

| 4 min read

Amy Barczy is a former brand journalist who authored...

Adult woman helps older mother fill out her pill sorter box
Caregiving for a loved one often means you are managing their medications. This is the case for 70% of caregivers, according to a recent poll. 
Doctors and pharmacists are great resources for questions; but often caregivers must be prepared with a full list of their loved one’s medications, dosages, allergies and health history when working with a health care provider. 

Educate yourself

Managing medications for someone else is an important role – and often means you need to have a deep understanding of their health conditions and prescriptions. Here are some tips to get started:
  • Get educated and organized. Understand all the medications your loved one is taking and why. It may help to attend doctor’s appointments to discuss medications, side effects and ask questions.
  • Make a list of prescriptions, including which doctor prescribed them, dosing instructions and where they are filled.
  • Know which medications are for daily use and which ones are only in case of a problem.
Many older adults are on multiple medications, which puts them at risk for potential drug interactions with other drugs, food, alcohol and with health conditions. For example, many older adults do not respond well to over-the-counter pain relievers including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen as they may aggravate health conditions.
If the person you are caring for is taking a new medication, talk to their doctor about any potential interactions. Make sure the prescribing doctor is aware of the patient’s current medications, allergies and health conditions.

Storing medications

  • Keep medication in their original bottles and in a safe place.
  • Make sure to keep dosage instructions in the same place and close to the medication, especially if the medication is an eye drop, inhaler or injection.
  • If you sort pills in a weekly container, make sure the person you’re caring for knows how to use it.
  • Plan to make sure you don’t run out of medication. Keep track of refill dates and monitor supply. 
  • Watch expiration or use by dates. Safely dispose of medication properly.

Administering medications

Developing a consistent system to administer medication is important. Here are some tips to stay on track and avoid errors:
  • Time medication dosage to coincide with parts of a daily routine, like a meal or bedtime.
  • Don’t administer medication in the dark. 
  • Use alarms as reminders. Mobile phones are often handy for this.
  • Create a chart to check off medication doses.

Working with the pharmacy

Pharmacists can be an ally to you as a caregiver as you manage medications for someone else. They can help you keep track of the medications, advise you of alternatives to expensive medication and answer questions about side effects.
Here are some tips when working with a pharmacy:
  • Try to ensure medications are filled through the same pharmacy.
  • Ask the pharmacist to split tablets if there is a pill that must be divided for the correct dosage.
  • Large print can be available on the prescription packaging if needed.
  • If a pill is difficult to swallow, ask the pharmacist if there are alternatives like a liquid, suppository or skin patch.
  • See if you can get prescriptions delivered through the mail, or if an extended supply is available to minimize trips to the pharmacy.

Managing care

Managing care for a loved one may require making decisions on their behalf, or accessing their medical records. This requires legal permissions that must be established before they are needed. These permissions may include a HIPAA Authorization form, medical power of attorney and/or advance care directives. 
If the loved one you are caring for does not want you to be involved with managing their medication, you can share information and concerns with their health care providers. Depending on the situation, health care providers may be able to provide you with information about their medication if they believe your loved one poses a risk to themselves or others, or if it’s in the best interest of your loved one’s care.
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