Are you actively engaged in the care of an adult relative? Being a family caregiver is a ton of responsibility. So is overseeing the at-home care a loved one receives from professionals.
Juggling life obligations can feel impossible; there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. One of the best things you can do is get organized. Keep track of the information you need to ensure your family member’s safety. Doing so will help you feel more in control. This is certainly true when it comes to medication.
Did you know that one in five older adults is admitted to hospitals because of medication? Side effects and negative interactions can lead to falls, cognitive issues, overdoses – the list goes on. Those who take multiple medications may face the greatest risk.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to help keep your family member safe while reducing your own stress. This post will highlight a few.
1) Keep in Regular Contact with Relevant Health Care Providers
If you’re the primary caregiver for your loved one, you know a lot about their reactions (and adherence) to medication. You also have other critical information – such as family history – that their health care providers may not. Communicating what you know can help practitioners make more informed decisions about your relative’s medication and overall treatment plans.
But there’s a lot that health care providers can tell you, too. A nurse or physician might notice a medication-related side effect that’s completely unnoticeable to you. Such information, when based on the extensive medical knowledge of professionals, may change your care regiments.
Two-way communication with providers is also extremely important if you aren’t your loved one’s primary caregiver. You’ll probably want to know how your family member is responding to medications. This information can help you make critical decisions about their care in the future.
Of course, it’s important for health care professionals to maintain boundaries with clients and their families. But there are also easy ways that you and the people who provide your loved one’s care to exchange useful information. Digital communication platforms – especially those designed for home care settings – can help everyone within a patient’s circle of care stay up to date.
2) When in doubt, ask a pharmacist
Finding reliable sources of information about the medications your family member is taking can be tricky. While the written information that comes with a prescribed drug is accurate, it’s not always easy to understand. The answer? Ask a pharmacist.
If your loved one administers their own medication, they may benefit from speaking with an expert as well. Look for programs that make consultation easy. In Ontario, the MedsCheck program connects pharmacists to home bound patients.
Does a home care service provider play a role in your loved one’s medication management? Are the right nurses or personal support workers checking in to make sure medications are being taken properly? If you have questions, you can ask the person responsible for coordinating your family member’s care.
Don’t be afraid to provide your home care agency with the information you receive from consultations with pharmacists. After all, when it comes to the health of a loved one, you can never be too careful. That said, professional caregivers should procure knowledge about the medications their clients taking early on.
Authoritative home care organizations are aware of the important contributions pharmacists make to multidisciplinary teams. If you want to know about the relationships your loved one’s caregivers have with pharmacists, ask.
3) Keep a Laundry List of Medications, Interactions, and Side Effects
This may seem obvious, but accurate information should be the starting point for your decisions. You can make these decisions easier by knowing every medicine your loved one takes, how they’re affected by it, and what they can do to avoid complications.
Consider this: certain drug interactions can cause side effects that look like the symptoms of dementia. Imagine confusing a temporary, medication-induced state for serious cognitive decline. Imagine the pain this confusion could cause for you, your loved one, and your entire family.
If you’re a full-time family caregiver, being aware of the dangers of medication errors will help you avoid them. Understanding what’s normal in terms of side effects will inform many aspects of how you provide care.
If you’re loved one is cared for at home by professionals, your knowledge of their medications is still important. It will give you a better idea of how to deal with unexpected behaviours and medical events when you’re able to engage with your relative in person. You’ll know when a situation is out of the ordinary, and when you should seek medical attention.
Whatever your role, it’s wise to keep a list of medications and related information in an easily-accessible place. Remember that knowledge empowers you to make more informed choices.
4) Use electronic reminders for medication management
Medications only work if medication management is undertaken correctly. Are you worried that your loved on will forget to take medication, take it at the wrong time, or take an accidental double dose? Unfortunately, the consequences of an innocent mistake can be serious.
Methods of decreasing the risk of human error will depend on factors specific to your family member’s situation. For example, if you administer her medication, the medication management plan may include ways of keeping you clear headed.
Whatever the situation, an electronic reminder system can act as safety net. It can also provide you with peace of mind.
There are many options. Some reminders are delivered through everyday devices, such as electronic tablets. Some go beyond issuing simple reminders, enabling professional caregivers to connect with their clients and monitor medication adherence remotely.
How independent is your loved one? Are they able to administer their own medication? Would engagement from a caregiver boost their adherence? And do you want to be able to track their medication usage remotely?
When it comes to which electronic reminder system is best, there are many considerations.
A Word of Caution
Can you name all of the medications your loved one is taking? Are you aware of all relevant side effects and interactions? If not knowing is causing you stress, you may want to get organized about medication management.
Such efforts can help you keep your loved one safe and reduce your own stress. But if you find yourself obsessing over carefully-considered details, it may be a sign you’re headed for caregiver burnout. Do what you can to get informed and stay informed. Take reasonable action based on what you learn. And don’t forget to take some time to relax.
Feature Image: Steven Depolo