My mother was getting forgetful and I was worried sick about her. On the phone, my mother’s conversation was confused and fragmented. Finally, I flew to Florida to assess her physical and mental health. One morning my mother said she wasn’t feeling well. She walked into the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, grabbed the first bottle she saw, and took a pill. “What did you just take?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she admitted.

When I looked at the label, I found that the medication had been prescribed for bladder infection. One problem—my mother didn’t have a bladder infection. This error was the beginning of her decline. Shortly after my visit, I moved my mother to my hometown to be closer to family, and monitor her meds. I was her family caregiver for nine years, and witnessed her slow, steady, relentless decline.

Sandra Ray writes about the medication issue in her article, “Keeping Track of Medications Safely,” posted on the Today’s Caregiver Magazine website. According to Ray, the management of medications includes awareness of drug interactions, throwing away outdated meds, never borrowing or lending medicine, not shopping for meds, taking all medications as prescribed, and constant checking. “Drug interactions are especially a concern for seniors,” she adds.

I was my mother’s family caregiver for nine years. Today, I’m my disabled husband’s primary caregiver. He takes so many prescription meds I can hardly keep track of them. I sat down at the computer, studied the medications list, and created a checklist for daily use. Each morning I enter the date, and print out the checklist. Before I give him any pills I check the label to make sure it’s the right medication. I put a checkmark by each medication as he takes it.

This simple system works well for me, and may work for you. This customized checklist makes tracking meds easier. What should be on your list?    

  • The current date
  • Name of the medication
  • Generic name of the medication (if one exists)
  • Dosage (number of milligrams, one pill, one teaspoon, etc.)
  • Reason for medication (high blood pressure, skin rash, cough, etc.)
  • Stop date if there is one

Free and fee medication checklists are available online. Some lists ask you to describe the pill—pink, white, yellow, etc. This sounds like a good idea, but it can lead to trouble because many medications are the same color. If you choose to describe the medication, I would add a qualifier, such as oval white pill, white capsule, or large, round white capsule.

For quick access, I write the name of the medication on the top of the bottle with permanent marker. Of course, I make sure the right top gets on the right bottle.

Safe medication management is an issue that pertains to everyone, not just care receivers. We live in Rochester, MN, home of Mayo Clinic, and go to Community Medicine for our health care. My husband’s last appointment was preceded by a consultation with a pharmacist, something we hadn’t requested. “Why are we meeting with a pharmacist?” I asked. According to the nurse, Mayo devised this plan because so many patients were taking medications incorrectly—skipping doses, taking extra pills, or even stopping pills.

A loved one’s health hinges on safe, ongoing medication management, and that’s part of your job. Create or download a medications checklist today!

About Harriet Hodgson

Profile photo of Harriet HodgsonRochester resident Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for 37 years, is the author of thousands of Internet/print articles, and 35 books. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support.

She is also a contributing writer for The Caregiver Space website, Open to Hope Foundation website, and The Grief Toolbox website. Harriet has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN.

A popular speaker, Harriet has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, caregiving, and bereavement conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories.

All of Harriet’s work comes from her life. She is now in her 19th year of caregiving and cares for her disabled husband, John. For more information about this busy author, grandmother, wife, and caregiver please visit www.harriethodgson.com

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