Managing Meds for Patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Sometimes it can seem like a cruel irony: the elderly, particularly those suffering from dementia, senility or Alzheimer’s disease, are often both most in need of medication and most likely to take those medications incorrectly. Mistakes with prescriptions can result in illness and even death, so proper med management for seniors with senility issues is of paramount importance.

Seniors constitute 12% of the population but consume around 35% of all medication. Medication-related problems (MRPs) among the general population are the fourth most costly medical expenditure- only cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s are more expensive. As seniors generally take more prescriptions than the general population, their MRP risk is even more pronounced (in fact, they’re twice as likely to suffer adverse reactions from medications). The key to preventing MPR infirmities within impaired seniors, and everyone else, is organization and knowledge.

Organization to Prevent Overdose (or Underdose)

There are a number of ways to keep organized and informed about the medications a senior struggling with a memory affliction.  Simply being organized can be incredibly helpful and, in some cases, prevent serious injury or death.

  • Pill organizers.  While always a good idea and useful to keep around, a majority of the pill organizers on the market are great for once-a-day medication consumption.  However, since many seniors take a number of medications, often from a number of different doctors and/or pharmacies, pill organizers might not be enough or simply be too basic. Most pill organizers have an AM/PM designation at best, though more elaborate organizers can be found at certain specialty retailers and online (at, for example).  It is best not to rely completely on these types of organizers, so one of the best recourses is to…
  • Make a detailed list. This is also always a good idea and often more important.  A list can be more helpful than an organizer for all the parties involved in the senior’s health. List what medications, supplements, and vitamins a patient is taking and what each medication and supplement is for, when they’re taking it and how often, what doctor prescribed it and what pharmacy filled it, maybe even possible interactions if you’re aware of them, refill dates if necessary, etc. A big piece of doing this successfully involves an effort to…
  • Maintain a relationship and open line of communication with all of a patient’s doctors and pharmacists and between them. Doctors and pharmacists are specially trained to be knowledgeable concerning any meds they prescribe or fill. This should make them the first line of defense against adverse interactions, mitigating uncomfortable side-effects, choosing the best form and dosage of meds, etc. The chances of a patient maintaining healthy medication habits are increased enormously when any doctor or pharmacist working with that patient is personally familiar with their meds, situation, diagnosis and anything else pertinent to their health.

Other Issues to be Aware Of

  • High risk medications. When most people think of meds with a high risk of overdose those that come to mind include narcotic painkillers, sleeping pills, benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Ativan), barbiturates, and so forth. However, those high risk meds are responsible for only 8% of accidental overdoses while more common meds taken by the elderly for conditions like heart disease or diabetes are far more likely to make their taker sick. In fact, anticoagulants or blood-thinners, oral diabetes medication, insulin, and anti-platelet prescriptions alone are responsible for about 70% of overdoses among the elderly.
  • Vaccinations. The under-vaccination of senior citizens is actually a very common problem. Often, the only vaccination commonly associated with seniors is the flu vaccine. It’s wise to keep the flu shot in mind, of course, but next time one is given talk to the providing doctor about adding a pneumonia shot. Influenza and pneumonia are responsible for more deaths among the elderly than car accidents. Like anyone else, seniors need to stay current on their tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis boosters and more than most everyone else those same seniors should be inoculated with the shingles vaccine. If the patient in question has never contracted chickenpox, a shingles vaccination against it is a must. In addition, ask a doctor if the senior in question should also seek out Hepatitis A and B, Meningitis, as well as Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines.

Jim Fox is a freelance writer who studied medicine for his undergraduate degree.  He frequently writes about topics pertaining to the medical industry, including affordable RX drugs.  When not typing the day away, he is either perfecting his wine recipes or lacing up his ice skates and heading for the nearest frozen water.

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