Managing medication in dementia


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A person with dementia may be prescribed medication for their condition, or for other health conditions. Taking on the role of medication management can be daunting for family members, so being organised and prepared can help to reduce worry. It can also be difficult for the person with dementia to let go of the control they have over the medication they take.

medication management in dementia

Here we discuss our top tips for ensuring that your loved one receives their medication as they should.

Medication reminders

Does your loved one forget to take their medication? Dementia commonly affects a person’s memory, and this can lead to them forgetting to take doses.

Is there anything that can be done to help remind them, such as prompts around the house or a reminder phone call?

The use of clearly labelled dosette boxes can be useful for someone in the early stages of dementia, as they will be able to see if they have taken their dose for that day. However, if their condition worsens, this may not be suitable as they may mistakenly take another day's medication or the wrong dose.

Think about who will give the medication

Is there someone who the person with dementia is more likely to accept medication from? This may be a family member or close friend. For people with dementia, they may often encounter numerous health and care professionals and so it can be overwhelming for them to be given medication by many different people. Try to maintain consistency in who gives medication.

See if there are alternative forms of the medication

For some people, swallowing pills can be difficult, and so it may be worth speaking to the health professional who prescribes the medication to see if there is any alternative form, such as a liquid or a patch. Some people prefer to crush their pills into a powder and take them with a drink, however this is not suitable for all medications and so this must be checked with a doctor or pharmacist beforehand.

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Another thing to consider is that older people are often on multiple medications for other health conditions. If you have authorisation to do so, speak to your loved one's GP, as there may be some medications that can be stopped. This keeps the number of medications to a minimum and increases the likelihood of compliance (continuing to take the medications as prescribed).

Keep a medication record

When medication is administered by a nurse or a carer, this is recorded on a medication administration record (MAR) chart. As a friend or family member, you are not required to keep a MAR chart, however you may find it useful to keep a record of what medication is administered. This can be especially useful in situations where your loved one is regularly refusing medication as you will have details of what and when medication was refused.

Maintain a medication routine

Having a regular routine can be beneficial to a person with dementia. Try to stick to taking the medication at the same time everyday, maybe along a wider nutritional routine. It may also help if you take your medications together. If you don’t take any medication, try taking a vitamin or similar, as this may encourage your loved one to take theirs.

Learn how to get them to take their medication

As frustrating as it can be when your loved one refuses their medication, try not to get annoyed with them as this can worsen the situation. Try using distraction techniques and come back to it after 10 minutes. If your loved one is taking ‘time critical’ medications, such as insulin or Parkinson’s medication, then refusal can mean that they do not receive them on time. If this is happening regularly, then speak to the prescribing healthcare professional, as there may be alternatives.

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As a last resort, some people are given their medication ‘covertly’, which means they do not know they are taking it as it is hidden, usually in food or drink. Don’t forget that hiding medication, for example in food, must be discussed with a healthcare professional, such as a GP or psychiatrist, and must be approved first.

Taking charge of a loved ones medication can often seem like a complicated and worrying task. Following these simple tips (and keeping organised) can help to make the process more straightforward. If you feel overwhelmed by it, then seek support from the healthcare professionals involved in your loved one’s care, such as their GP or district nurse. They are experienced in managing medication and they will be able to offer guidance and support.

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