Tips to Help Give Medicine to Seniors

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Donna Mae Scheib

Tips to Help Give Medicine to Seniors

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on September 25, 2018

Tips to Help Give Medicine to Seniors

Those diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s often are reluctant to take their medicines. They may be confused, afraid, or feel that they are not in control of the situation. Yet, taking the recommended medicine on a consistent basis is important for maintaining optimal health. What are some tips to help give medicine to seniors so the process is easier and less stressful?

1. Find the best time of the day

Often, seniors experience sundowning symptoms so administering medications in the latter part of the afternoon or evening might be more difficult. Find out when they are usually in their best moods and most alert. Talk to their doctor to map out the best schedule for them to be taking their medicines.

2. Follow a calm, quiet routine

A regular schedule of administering the medicines is important. Try giving the medicines in the same place at the same time to build up a routine. If it is still difficult, try a favorite room or chair, the same cup of water, or maybe a time (e.g., after a meal) when they feel more satisfied. Having the same caregiver administer the medications is worth a try, too. The caregiver should remain calm at all times. Make sure there are few noise distractions and people around. Playing soothing music is another suggestion worth trying.

3. Help make medications easier to take

If the pills are too large to swallow, talk to the doctor, pharmacist or nursing staff to see if there is a liquid substitute. Consider breaking the pills in half or crushing them and adding to a soft-appealing food like yogurt or applesauce. (Make sure to check with medical staff first about the possibility of crushing the pills to ensure the medication is safe and effective).

4. Relook at the medicines to see if they are necessary

Make sure the medications are reviewed several times a year so all of the medicines taken are necessary. Again, consult with the medical staff to see if there are any medications that can be safely discontinued.

5. If there is a refusal, allow some wait time and try again

Don’t force the medications. Take some time away from the situation and retry in about 15 minutes. You may have to continue trying a few times on some days.

6. Pair the medicine with a treat

If the senior like something crunchy like chips or has a sweet tooth and savors chocolate or ice cream, you can put a treat out in front of them. Reassure them that the treat is theirs after they take their pills.

7. Watch for any signs of discomfort or sickness

Perhaps the refusal to take medicine is caused by them feeling uncomfortable or ill (e.g., teeth or gums hurting, poor-fitting dentures, urinary tract infection, constipation, sore throat, cold or flu-like symptoms). Remember, there are also side effects of many medicines; typically, there may be stomach aches, agitation, dizziness, or a nauseous feeling. They may not be able to vocalize what is “wrong” so talk to their doctor and share your observations with them.

8. Feeling overwhelmed

Sometimes, the sight of so many pills or pill bottles is too much. Keep the pill bottles out of sight. Also, consider giving one pill at a time rather than having all of them in a cup or the palm of your hand. Play a game by having them point to a hand to find a pill, until one-by-one they are gone. Or administer them by sizes or colors. (“Here’s a small one”, “Take the pink one”, etc.).

9. Use short sentences without explanation or reason

Don’t’ argue or try to explain why they need medications. Patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s most often do not have reasoning ability or the attention span to listen and understand complex explanations; they will just get more agitated. Use simple words and short sentences to address the patients. Or you can just hand them one pill at a time for them to put in their mouth and swallow. Then supply them with water and say simply, “Drink water now.” And of course, follow with “Good job!”

10. Take (or pretend to take) medications yourself

Start with “it’s time for our medicine”. Then either take your own medicine or a substitute that looks like medicine (some type of candy) so the person has a team player. Again, be friendly and calm.

There is no doubt that getting seniors to take medicine at times is challenging. However, when faced with someone refusing to take medicines, there are several helpful tips to meet success. The important take away is to find something that works for your loved one.

A note from a reader:

I know, I’ve been there. My mother who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s oftentimes refuses to take medicines. Since I know how important it is for her to take the pills on a consistent basis, the doctor eliminated a pill that was not necessary and then shifted the time for her to take the remaining pills so she was more alert. (Rather than early in the morning, she takes her pills after lunch and then after dinner). Since I am my mother’s POA for health, the staff at her memory care unit are instructed to contact me if she ever refuses to take them. There are some weeks where I get several calls and there are other weeks where she takes her pills without an incident. When they call me, I talk to my mother over the phone and thus far, she hears my voice with a simple instruction of “take your pills”, and then she takes them. Then I tell her I love her and when I am coming next to see her, and she moves on with her day. 


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