by Angie Stone, RDH, BS
As people age, their health will likely deteriorate to the point of needing to take medications in order to survive. Whether the reason for meds is heart problems, diabetes, cancer, etc., the daily chore of medication organization can become a daunting task. When people can’t manage medications for themselves, family members may be required to assist. Handling medications for someone else brings with it big responsibilities. Typically, family members do not have the level of knowledge required to adequately manage multiple medications.
I was in this exact situation with a family member of mine. At the high point of her medication usage, my mother-in-law was taking more than 20 medications per day. Some were taken several times per day, while others were taken once a week. Some prescriptions needed to be taken on an empty stomach and others on a full stomach. Weekly doctor visits often resulted in the alteration of medications. A few might be taken away completely, lessened, or increased. It was a constant chore to keep up with the changing meds. The pressure this placed on my sister-in-law and me was incredible. We constantly worried that maybe we hadn’t set up the meds exactly as they were intended.
Many elders do not have family members they can rely on to aid them in medication organization. A large contributing factor to nursing home admissions is elders who are unable to manage medications by themselves and who do not have people available to help them. Mismanagement of medications can result in illness, overdose, poor glucose management, increased blood pressure, etc. If medications are managed correctly, patients are more likely to be healthy, allowing them to remain at home for a longer period of time.
I was elated to learn that some pharmacies have stepped up to the plate to help resolve this issue for medication takers and their families. Select pharmacies provide a service that not only delivers medications, but also sets up the meds for a week or two at a time. In some cases they may be able to set up meds for a month at a time. A change in medication is easy to accommodate. The physician phones the modifications into the pharmacy. The pharmacy then resets the meds as directed, delivers them to the patient, and retrieves previously set up medications. This type of assistance would have been a godsend for us while my mother-in-law was alive.
Not only does this service help the medication taker, it also takes the burden off loved ones. It is much easier for family members to remind someone to take their medication than it is for them to take complete responsibility for obtaining the meds from the pharmacy and setting them up. Setup of meds can take a lot of time, and if interrupted it is difficult to remember what medications have already been placed in the container. Inaccuracies of medication dosage can lead to health problems and potential hospitalizations.
Some pharmacies add a charge for this special setup service. In some cases a dollar or two is added to the cost of each medication the pharmacy sets up, while other pharmacies provide the service free of charge if all medications are filled through their pharmacy. The pharmacies will bill the participant’s insurance company. In Wisconsin, this type of service is covered by Senior Care. Many people don’t know there is a service available, let alone that it may be paid for.
While the extra cost may be a consideration when deciding to use such a service, one also must consider the peace of mind that comes with third-party medication setup. Another benefit is the increased quality time a family member could spend with a loved one. Instead of spending precious time setting up meds, that time could be spent really enjoying being with the family member.
While people who live independently can receive this service, it tends not to be highly publicized. From the research I have conducted, most pharmacies will put information into the prescription bags of those folks they feel may benefit from the service. One pharmacy had brochures, but they were in the pharmacy’s office, not easily attainable at the checkout. None of the pharmacies I talked to were conducting any outside advertising. If you have a family member or know of an elder who could potentially benefit from this service, call your area pharmacies to inquire about the availability of medication setup and delivery. In my area, I discovered that the small, independent pharmacies were more apt to deliver this service.
Angie Stone, RDH,BS, practices clinically in Milton, Wis. She also is an educator at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wis. Her company, Oral Health Concepts, provides in-service training sessions to staff members of long term care facilities on the topic of Oral Health for Residents. Angie welcomes your comments at [email protected].