Medication plays an important role in good health. Ensuring the people you care for take it at the right time, in the right way and in the right frequency and dose is essential. We’ve compiled 10 key questions about medication that people and carers ask, to help you manage medication.
When should medication be taken?
Medication should be taken as directed by a doctor or pharmacist or according to the instructions on the packet. Try to make sure medications are taken at the same time every day, though some medicines need to be given at specific times such as before, with or after food.
This ensures you achieve the full benefit of the medication and lessen any possible side effects.
The management of certain medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease can only be controlled with very precise, set dose timings, so it may help to set reminders on a calendar, phone or in a special app on your smartphone or tablet.
Medication that is out of date should never be taken.
What should I do about a missed dose?
In the event a dose is missed, do not take or give a double dose to make up for the dose that was missed.
Check the patient information leaflet in the medication packaging as there is usually a section that relates to missed doses, though we recommend speaking to a pharmacist to get the best advice. It’s a good idea to keep the phone number of the pharmacy and doctor’s surgery in your phone or diary.
When a new medication is prescribed always ask the doctor for the appropriate course of action if a dose is missed.
If this happens regularly, start to keep a record or medication diary of what was taken and not taken (and why if known) and discuss it with your loved one’s doctor as soon as possible.
How do I get a new supply of medication?
We are only ever prescribed a limited course of medication, so it’s a good idea to make a note in your diary or set a reminder to order a repeat prescription a week before it is due to run out. Check with your GP surgery to find out how many days the practice needs to process repeat prescription requests.
Most GPs now offer a dedicated telephone line for repeat prescription ordering or an online web service, and some Pharmacies offer a convenient repeat prescription service where you let them know what medicines you need and they will arrange the repeat prescription with the GP Practice for you, and in some cases deliver the medication to you directly.
Where and how should medication be stored?
Medication can deteriorate and not work as intended if exposed to heat, light or moisture. It is best not to keep medicines in a damp or steamy place such as a kitchen or bathroom, or on windowsills. Medication is best stored in a cool, dark place, however always check the label for special storage instructions such as store in the fridge or away from sunlight.
Try and keep all medication together in one place for ease of access, unless there are specific instructions for storage. Medicines that should be stored in the fridge are best placed in a separate container (e.g. plastic box or re-sealable bag) and kept away from food and other consumables. If the person you care for does not live alone, make sure that the medication for each person is stored separately so that they do not get mixed up.
Always keep medication out of the reach of children. If you are a young carer and have younger brothers and sisters, make sure medication is located out of their reach.
It’s important to keep medicines in their original containers and packaging along with their instructions for use. Do not decant medication into other containers.
Is there any help with medication for people with sight difficulties?
Many people need help from carers with medication due to poor sight, or if they are registered blind. If the person you care for is unable to read the directions on their medication packaging, ask the pharmacist to provide them in large print and to talk through the instructions as well.
If the person you care for is registered blind it is important that new supplies of medication are checked for any brand changes which may be in different sized outer packaging or different shaped tablets. Speak to the pharmacist who may be able to ensure generic brands are always provided so that the tablet shape remains familiar and consistent and will help to prevent medication errors.
There are some specialised apps available that will connect blind people with sighted volunteers via video link who can help with medication labelling amongst other things.
Talking Labels provides audible guidance in identifying and taking medications. Talking Labels attach to standard medication packaging and allow the patient, carer or pharmacist to record and store a voice message, which can then be played back at any time with the push of a button.
Is there any help with medication for people with swallowing difficulties?
If you care for someone with swallowing difficulties or someone who is having to chew tablets before swallowing speak to your pharmacist about suitable soluble and liquid alternatives. The Swallowing Difficulties website at http://www.swallowingdifficulties.com may also have details of possible alternatives.
The following tips may help your loved one to swallow their tablets more effectively,
- A dry mouth makes it harder to swallow so moisten your mouth with saliva or water first.
- Place the tablet in the centre of the tongue, and lengthways along the tongue if the pill is oval-shaped.
- Immediately take a sip of water and wash the pill directly into your throat, throwing your head back.
- Hold water in your mouth before inserting the pill – suspending the pill in water may help to flush it down.
- Try using a straw to drink the water as the suction may help.
Is there any help with medication for people with dexterity difficulties?
Depending on the medication type, there are options available for people who dexterity difficulties.
A Blister pack pen device is easy to hold and grip and helps you get into a medication blister pack more easily. A Haleraid or other inhaler aids are available for people who are arthritic or have difficulty depressing an inhaler.
If an eyedrop bottle is too small to squeeze a drop from, there are eye drop dispensers designed for arthritic hands. Winged caps are a simple device that is placed onto the top of a medication bottle to help open it.
Is there any help with medication for people with memory difficulties?
Having a medication record with pictures of the medication and an explanation of all the medicines to be taken including when they should be taken, how many and what they are for can help and is a useful prompt. These can be in paper or electronic form.
People who have difficulty remembering if they have taken tablets or not may benefit from a medication diary or tick chart. If ticked when tablets are taken, these charts can be a good way of reminding people that tablets have been taken but they are inappropriate if a patient is unaware of the day and time.
For people with more pronounced memory issues, electronic medicines dispensers audibly and visibly remind patients to take their medicines, which are locked within the device so people are only able to take medicines at the times the alarm has been set.
How can Pharmacists help?
Pharmacists are medical experts and will be happy to help you with any medication queries you have.
In England & Wales pharmacists provide a free Medicines Use Review (MUR) service. This may benefit you and the people you care for by providing,
- A review of all medicines to see if there is any overlapping or interactions
- Give extra information on what medicines are for
- Discuss side effects of medicines
- Identify problems associated with medicines
Your local pharmacy can often provide a medication delivery service/collection of unwanted medicines and provide advice on compliance aids to assist with taking medicines.
It will make it easier for your pharmacist to talk to you about the medicines the person you care for is taking if they know you are a carer and have written consent from the person you care for.
How do I dispose of medication?
Don’t throw unwanted or expired medication out with your normal rubbish or wash them down the sink or toilet: Take any medicines that the person you care for no longer needs, or is out of date, back to your local pharmacy. Don’t keep them ‘just in case’.
After a medication is changed or discontinued the remaining supplies should be returned to your pharmacy to be disposed of safely.
In the event a person dies, keep the medication for at least seven days in case the Coroner’s Office, Procurator Fiscal or Courts ask for them.
Always dispose of medication that has reached its expiry date. Remember that some medication expires sooner once it has been opened such as eye drops. Write the date you opened eye drops on the package so you can keep track of when it is due to expire.
Ehrenpreis & Ehrenpreis. 2015. Ten Tips For Ensuring Medication Safety.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The handling of medicines in social care.
Carers Trust. 2015. A Carers Guide To Managing Medicines.
NHS Choices. 2014. Problems Swallowing Pills.
The Community Pharmacy Framework Collaborative. Self Care Auxiliary Aids.