SENIOR BEAT

Medications a big challenge in caring for an elder

Posted May 20, 2011, at 10:02 p.m.

Caring for an elderly person can be rewarding but also challenging. While caregivers are as varied as the tasks they perform, they share some of the same concerns.

Caregivers are people of all ages, from all walks of life. A caregiver is anyone who provides unpaid assistance to an older adult, be it transportation, grocery shopping, preparing meals, yard work, house cleaning, bathing, dressing, or helping with bill paying — anything the older person can no longer do independently.

Mowing the lawn occasionally or cooking a dinner, for example, may not be particularly stress inducing, but being responsible for administering a loved one’s medications can be overwhelming — and sometimes frightening — for the caregiver.

We hear this from caregivers on a regular basis, but having a system for dispensing the medications and being informed about the side effects can reduce the fear a caregiver may have. If you are caring for an elderly person, ask as many questions as possible and be sure you understand what medications are being given and why.

To help keep track of prescriptions, one option may be to use a day-of-the-week pill box. Some drugs need to be stored in dark, tightly closed containers, so check with your pharmacist.

Also, ask questions of the health care provider or pharmacist concerning proper usage, possible side effects and drug interaction, even with over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies that might seem harmless.

Dangerous interactions can result from:

• Combining SSRIs, such as Prozac and Paxel, with the herb St. John’s Wort. This may

cause an increase in blood pressure, an increase in internal body temperature and impairment of mental and motor skills.

• Combining an anticoagulant, such as Coumadin, with aspirin. This could cause increased bleeding. Aspirin can be present in other over-the-counter medications, as well, so check the labels.

• Combining certain hypertension medications with stomach acid blockers, such as Tagamet, prescription strength or over-the-counter. This may cause rapid heart rate and could lower blood pressure to a dangerous level.

• Combining certain hypertension medications with oral diabetes medication. This could cause

blood sugar to increase or decrease and also cause a rise in blood pressure.

• Combining over-the-counter cold drugs containing pseudo-ephedrine, such as Sudafed, with certain hypertension medication. This could increase blood pressure.

And remember, always be careful if consuming alcohol while taking any medication.

So many caregivers are responsible for someone else’s medications in addition to keeping track of their own. It seems to be a common theme.

It is important to be comfortable with dispensing medications to a loved one, and it is very helpful to have a system that works. Everyone is different and what works for one may not work for another, but having a plan and a routine can relieve some of the stress.

Keeping a notebook to record changes in behavior along with all medications, including herbs, is a great place to start. Journals give you the opportunity to look back rather than rely on memory. This notebook also can be brought along on trips to the doctor. By recording dates, you can spot emerging patterns.

It also is a good idea to keep an updated list of medications in your wallet or purse, which

will allow you to review them with the pharmacist anytime a new prescription is introduced.

Always ask the health care provider and pharmacist questions if you don’t understand

something. It is vitally important to get all the information possible when caring for a loved one.

And remember, there are no stupid questions when it comes to your senior’s, or your own, health and well-being.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email

Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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