How Caregivers Can Help with Medication Adherence

June 2020

Taking a prescribed medicine on schedule, in the right dosage and according to the doctor’s directions is what health professionals call medication adherence. As a caregiver, you may be all too familiar with how difficult it can be to get a loved one to remember, or even agree, to take their medicine.

If you’ve been struggling with this task, follow these tips to improve your loved one’s med adherence to optimize their doctor’s treatment plan and enhance their health.

Understand the Reasons for Non-Adherence

It may be tempting to scold or become frustrated with an elderly family member or friend who seems particularly stubborn about not following a prescription, but research shows that non-adherence affects all patient populations, not just the elderly and others needing caregivers. A 2017 article published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on improving med adherence for chronic disease management cites evidence that about one in five new prescriptions are never filled, and about half of those that are filled are taken incorrectly.

Perhaps the experience of managing your own medications can help you understand how much more challenging it might be for the person you care for. Use that empathy when talking to them about med adherence and thinking of ways to make it easier.

In their post for the Family Caregiver Alliance website, pharmacists Kathleen Cameron and Ron Finley point to several common med adherence challenges for older patients and those with disabilities. These can include difficulties with remembering to take medicines, reading labels, hearing the doctor’s instructions, opening bottles, swallowing pills and scheduling doses of multiple prescriptions. The CDC article mentions additional factors, such as communication barriers between doctor and patient, complex dosing regimens and limited coordination among healthcare providers. The list of potential med adherence obstacles cited in a recent “NEJM Catalyst” article includes patient beliefs about medication and the lack of standardization in labeling.

Boost Your Knowledge About Medications

Cameron and Finley note that caregivers often know more about the purpose, directions, side effects and other details about medications than the patients themselves. If you’ve taken on the role of family medicine expert, it’s essential that you learn as much as possible about how your loved one should be taking their medicine and what results you should expect.

Your family member’s doctors, nurses and pharmacist can be valuable sources of information. If you’re going with a loved one to the doctor, get their permission to ask questions about their medications, and then make sure they understand the responses. Ground to cover includes the purpose of each medication, how it’s supposed to work, how long the patient should take it, how it will react with other medications, whether to take it with food and whether to avoid consuming certain food or beverages while taking it. A pharmacist may also be able to help explain how medications work and provide additional information that helps with prescription compliance.

Use Tools to Boost Adherence

There are many types of gadgets and technical aids available to help patients manage their medications. Tools to help them remember their meds can often be purchased at your local pharmacy, ranging from simple containers with compartments to hold pills taken at different times of the day to high-tech containers that beep dosage reminders and bottle caps that count the number of openings to ensure that every prescribed dose is taken. Smartphones and special watches can also be programmed to serve as medication reminders and the My GNP mobile app also has an option to set medication reminders.

Patients with impaired vision may benefit from large-print medicine labels or magnifying glasses, while those with arthritis or problems with dexterity will probably appreciate the easy-open bottles they can get by special request in lieu of tamper-proof versions. If your loved one has trouble swallowing pills, ask if the medicine in available in liquid form or if it’s OK to crush the pills.

Empathy, knowledge and medication management aids can make it a lot easier to get a care recipient to take their medicine as the doctor ordered. Consider all three of these factors when you’re creating a plan to boost your loved one’s med adherence.

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