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Medication Management with Older Adult Parents, A First Step

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Going to the doctor with your older adult parent? Do you know what medication she’s really taking? I emphasized the “really” because of a recent conversation with a client’s son which highlighted the need for a little rethinking of the advice I give on medication lists and parents.

Once we start going to the doctor with parents and perhaps taking them to the emergency room, we need good information about the medications they are actually taking, not just what has been prescribed at some point.  Here’s what can happen when you and your parent aren’t really communicating:

(Emergency Room Doctor) So, Mrs. G, I see from the list your son gave me, you’re taking 12 different medications right now. Did you take any of these today?

(Mrs. G) No.

(Doctor) Did you take any of these yesterday?

(Mrs. G) No.

(Doctor) How about the day before?

(Mrs. G) No.

(Son, who is by now, red in the face)  Mom, why aren’t you taking your medication? When was the last time you took this medication?

(Mrs. G) I haven’t taken any of this stuff in 6 months. My regular doctor said I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to.  And I don’t want to.

(Son) Why did you tell me these were your medicines on the way here?

(Mrs. G) You asked me what medicine I could take. So, I could be taking these.

While the adult son didn’t yell, he certainly felt like it. He thought he and his mom were on the same page and found out they weren’t communicating at all.

Preventing potentially dangerous drug interactions is the key reason for gathering medication information. Here are my updated suggestions:

  1. Maintaining a current list of medications is best done by your parent, if she is able

     Encourage her to update the list after every doctor visit and post in a note-taking app, like Evernote, or a password-protected on-line file storage site, like Dropbox.  This will enable you or other family members to access it at the emergency room.  Of course, you‘ll need your parent to share the login information with you.

  2. If your parent needs your help with the medication list and management, tread carefully

    Respect her as an adult, understanding that giving you the information is her choice. Start by explaining you might need the information if you have to take her to the emergency room.  Try to make the questions as conversational as possible.

  3. Ask about the medications and then verify the information

      Ask what is currently being taken, how and when it is taken (such as every morning with food) and how long the medication has been taken*.  The follow-up verification questions could be whether the medication is working, does your parent want to change it and why, does she want to continue it and why, and what condition it addresses.   Your intent with the verification questions is to get more information about the medication, how it is being taken, and her thoughts about it.

Eventually, and as you increase your role in managing your parent’s healthcare, you will need to have a HIPAA release signed by your parent which enables doctors to speak to you about your parent’s condition and medications.  Since these are available on line, you could print one and have your parent sign multiple copies and then distribute to each doctor’s office, or just do them one at a time when you visit.

*Red flag: if a parent has taken any medication for years.  Most medication should not be taken for more than 6 months.  Encourage your parent to address this with the prescribing doctor.

Lee Nyberg serves older adult clients and their families through her company, Home Care Assistance.  Home Care Assistance is North America’s premier provider of in-home care for older adults. The company’s founders and care managers embrace a positive, balanced approach to aging centered on the evolving needs of older adults. For more information, visit our website at this link: Hourly Home Care Explained.  Or, if you’d like to speak with a Care Manager right away, call us at 402-763-9140.

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