Elders too often are harmed at home due to inadvertently taking too much medication. This risk is greater with dementia because the person may not recall if or when they had their last dose. So, they take it again… and sometimes, even again. Or take the wrong medication or get confused about the instructions. Was it one pill every four hours or four pills every one hour?
There are various ways reduce the risk of medication errors. The right approach (or combination of approaches) is unique to the person with dementia. You must consider their living situation, personality, remaining abilities, functional losses and where their medication regimen fails. Here are three ways to intervene:
- Storage - Some people with dementia do well with a multi-dose, pre-packed cassette that organizes each dose behind a little door (as long as the device is packed accurately). Others, though, may need to have their medications locked up except when taking a dose. Also, check if their pharmacy will blister pack all pills taken together, marking the day and time for each dose.
- Tech - Equipment that organizes and dispenses medications ranges from simple (a multi-dose pillbox) to elegantly complex (a machine that dispenses pre-loaded medications, then rings and flashes a light – even has someone call– until the dose is taken). Machines that limit a dose until the right time can help prevent someone from taking multiple doses close together. However, the person with dementia might possibly skip a dose by setting those medications aside. Unless witnessed by another person in real time, it is impossible to know whether the person took the medications on time, much less at all.
- Supervision - Another person reminds when it is time to take medication, either in person or over the phone. This person could be a family member, friend, neighbor, paid caregiver or service. However, the person with dementia could still take medications too often if they have access to the medications.
If the person is confused about the day and time, gadgets or storage approaches should be combined with human supervision to ensure the right pills are taken at the right time. Human intervention is a key aspect in keeping people with dementia safe from medication errors.
For more ideas on how to reduce safety risks in the home watch our video: Home Safety and Dementia.