Help Someone Manage Multiple Prescriptions

Caregivers can help avoid problems when those they care for take multiple medications

Ever hear of “polypharmacy?” That’s the word for taking multiple medications at one time. It's common among older adults and many people with disabilities, and it can create some problems.

Research shows that the more medication a person takes, the greater the risk of medication-related problems. Caregivers can do a lot to prevent these problems if they help those they care for keep track of medicines and ask the right questions.

For most older people, multiple medication use is the norm. Many chronic conditions or diseases — diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, incontinence, high blood pressure, pulmonary disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease — often require the use of multiple medications. The focus must be the appropriateness, effectiveness and safety of all prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Caregivers must ask questions about each medication, like:

  • Is this medication really needed?
  • Is the medication the most appropriate for the medical condition being treated?
  • Will the medication be a problem with other medical conditions that are occurring at the same time?
  • Is the medication being prescribed at the right dose?
  • Does the medication interact with other medications?
  • Can the medication be taken correctly based on specific patient circumstances?

Some of the challenges faced by caregivers who must juggle multiple medications for their loved ones include keeping all the prescriptions filled, especially during weekends and holidays, and managing medications prescribed by multiple doctors.

Planning ahead to refill prescriptions on time is essential; keeping an up-to-date medication record can inform doctors of all medicines prescribed by others. A “Caregiver’s Notebook” — a looseleaf binder maintained by a caregiver — is an ideal way to compile information on medical diagnoses, doctors’ appointments, questions and medication history.

Caregiver's checklist for medications
Prescription problems: What to look for

Based on content in the Family Caregiver Alliance fact sheet “Medications: A Double-Edged Sword.”

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