How to Create a Medication Routine For Your Senior Loved One

Kathy Quan

Administering medications to your loved one is not something to take lightly.

Medications cover a wide realm of necessities including:

  • Comfort medications for pain ranging from mild to acute 

  • Medications to manage health conditions such as regulating heart rate or blood pressure, improving lung function and breathing

  • Medications to  manage chronic diseases such as arthritis or diabetes 

Over-the-counter medicines (OTC) such as vitamins and supplements may also be a part of your loved one’s daily medication management routine to help maintain their health status.

Your loved one could possibly have a long list of medications to be sorted out and dispensed as directed by the prescribing practitioner. These can include taking multiple medications at multiple times during the day and evening. This is a major responsibility for family members and other caregivers. 

Managing medication can be time-consuming, overwhelming, confusing, and definitely has its challenges. Remember, that it is a team effort. The patient, family members, and caregivers are all part of your loved one’s healthcare team.

What Are the 5 Goals Of Medication Routine Safety?

To ease some of the stress of setting up and maintaining a medication routine for your loved one, take a page from the nurse’s playbook. 

In administering medications, nurses must follow a process that includes at least five basic goals to meet for patient and medication safety. This process is known as the 5 Rights of Medication Safety. 

Caregivers can easily adapt this process and the goals to ensure proper medication administration. Those five goals are:

1. The Right Medication

It’s important to double-check each medication as you either administer or place it in a medication box or pill organizer to administer later or for your loved one to take on their own.

Prescription drugs come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Note that medications can be manufactured by several pharmaceutical companies, and they may look entirely different, but be the same medication and dose.

 It is extremely helpful to keep a current medication list to check against to ensure all medications have been dispensed. Always add any new medications to this list and remove any that the physician has discontinued.

The pharmacist labels the bottles of prescription medicines with the medication names including the generic name and the trade name. The label will also contain important information such as the dose of each pill or capsule, the prescription for giving the medication such as how many, how often, and any specific timing. 

Some medications must be taken on an empty stomach and some with food. There will be information about how much medicine is being dispensed, the expiration date if applicable, and how many times the medication can be refilled before a new prescription is needed.  

The label will also contain any specific warnings such as foods to avoid when taking, possible side effects such as drowsiness, or nausea/vomiting, and warnings such as not to drive or operate machinery. 

When you pick up a new prescription from the drugstore, the pharmacist will consult to explain the important facts about taking the medication including any possible Pharmacists who are also available to counsel on any medication during pharmacy hours. If you have any questions about your loved one’s medications, you can call the pharmacist or the healthcare provider.

For safety, all medication should be handled through one pharmacy so that the pharmacist knows what else your loved one is taking and can alert the physician if there is a possible interaction with other medications your loved one is taking. 


2. The Right Patient

If you’re only caring for one loved one, identification is simple. However, if you have two or more loved ones in your care, it can be a little more complex to manage their medications. 

Complicating the matter, some of the medications may be the same or similar. If you’re rushed or stressed or exhausted, mistakes are easier to make. Slow down and be precise.

Be sure to keep the prescription drug bottles and pill boxes separated for each loved one you may be taking care of. A shoe box can be used to house them. 

Marking initials on the cap of the bottles or top of the box can help identify whose medications are whose, but always double-check the labels just in case someone else moved them. 


3. The Right Dose

Some medications that are taken more than once during the day could be dosed differently. 

For instance, one pill in the morning with breakfast, but two with dinner. Read labels carefully for dosing instructions. These will include what time of day and whether to take with food or not. The label will also tell you how many pills to take at one time. 

In some rarer instances, the dose might be a half tablet. Then you need to know if the pharmacist prepared them for you, or if you need to cut them in half. 

For liquid medications, be sure to measure correctly using appropriate measuring devices. Dose according to the instructions. Common silverware can vary in size. Not all teaspoons are created equal; nor are tablespoons. Getting the exact amount is important to receive the correct dose. 


4. The Right Route

While most medications will be obvious in whether they are to be swallowed, inhaled, or injected, oral medications can be tricky.

Some oral medications are to be swallowed whole; some can be crushed if necessary while some cannot be crushed. Some are to be placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve and be absorbed. Some dissolve on the tongue. If your loved one is in hospice, you might come across an eye drop medication that is to be given sublingual (placed under the tongue.) This is given to patients who are experiencing a lot of oral secretions and drooling. 

Some medications are given rectally such as suppositories for constipation or to relieve nausea and vomiting. Always check the label to be sure you’re giving the medication as directed. 


5. The Right Time

The label will not necessarily tell you the exact time to administer medication, but it will tell you things like how many times a day to take it. This could be once daily or two to three times a day. Some medications like antibiotics might be ordered every 6 or 8 hours. 

Pain medications might have parameters for giving every 4 to 6 hours as needed.

In this case, you’ll need to keep a log of when they are administered so that you’re certain about when you last gave them, and when it’s ok to give them again. This prevents the possibility of giving it too soon or waiting longer than necessary to provide comfort. 

Setting medication reminders such as an alarm clock, med boxes with an alarm system or automatic dispenser, or using a calendar or log book can be helpful in managing a medication schedule. Older adults often need more assistance with medication regimens.

Other medications are to be given with meals, some might require waiting 30 minutes after eating, or giving it 30 minutes before eating. 

If you have any questions about medications, contact the pharmacist or the prescribing practitioner. Don’t make assumptions, ask and be safe.


How To Set Up A Medication Box

Medication boxes come in a variety of sizes and are designed for organizing pre-poured single doses up to multiple doses several times a day. 

You and your loved one’s local pharmacy can help you choose which medication box that works best for your loved one. The med boxes that work for one week are the most common. The individual boxes are labeled and possibly color-coded by day of the week and AM or PM. They might have other labels such as noon or breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime. 

Set out all the medication bottles with the medication box and place one dose in each of the appropriate boxes. 

Double-check the labels before placing them in the med box. When you’ve filled all the boxes appropriately, check to make sure the correct meds are in each slot. It can be easy to drop a pill into the wrong slot and give two doses instead of one. 

Instruct your loved one about the medication box and how to take the appropriate medications on their own as labeled on the med box. You will be able to quickly verify if they’ve taken the medications because the individual boxes will be empty. 

If your loved one is no longer independent in taking their medications, you’ll have to administer them. Using a pre-poured medication box or pill organizer can help save time by not having to take out each medication every time you administer them. Make sure you’re using the appropriate box each time. And if you’re caring for more than one loved one, you have selected the right med box. 

How To Make  Sure The Medication Is Taken

When administering medications, always wait for your loved one to actually take them. Don’t just set the medications down and walk away. 

Your loved one might forget to take the medications. Medications can also be a choking hazard as loved ones age. They may need to be crushed and placed into some applesauce or pudding to help swallow them. Remember, some medications cannot be crushed. Please ask the pharmacist before you crush any medication.

Your loved one may resist taking medications for a variety of reasons. It’s easy to look like they took the med, but it’s just inside the pocket of their cheek waiting for you to leave and they’ll spit it out. Watch them carefully when they swallow. Have them drink an additional sip or two of water. And then look in their mouth – under their tongue and in the pockets of their cheeks. 

Administering medications is a huge responsibility, but understanding the process, knowing who to ask for help and how to help simplify the process can decrease the stress of this aspect of caring for loved ones. 


Why Keeping An Updated List Of Medications Matters 

Make a list of the medications and current doses to keep with you and take to medical appointments. It should be added to your loved one’s medical records with each practitioner. 

Update the list with any changes at each visit. Leave a copy in the shoe box with their medications in case someone needs to assist in administering meds or setting up the med boxes.