Take As Prescribed: Why Seniors Fail To Follow Medication Schedules

It’s not just seniors. The New York Times reports that at least half of the medications for chronic diseases simply aren’t taken as prescribed. That’s a serious issue for a person of any age, but it can have even worse consequences for seniors. It’s estimated that 10% of hospitalizations for seniors happen annually because of missing medication doses.

Here are the three main reasons why seniors decide not to take medication prescribed to them, and suggestions on what to do about it.

1. They have difficulty understanding the cost

Not all prescription medications are expensive, but much of it is. Many seniors know that they are on a fixed and limited income, and sometimes they decide it’s a better idea to take less than what has been prescribed.

While it may make the prescription last longer, it can make the benefits of the medicine far less effective—or even totally ineffective. If it’s possible, find out whether this is why a senior is skipping taking their medications. It may be necessary to have a frank discussion with them, reminding them that they’re really not saving money. It will cost far more in hospital or medical bills if their condition is not kept in check.

2. They don’t believe there’s any benefit

Serious health conditions like a heart attack or kidney failure often have a long recovery period. During that time, it may not seem as if the daily medications prescribed are doing anything at all. Seniors may start to lose faith that they indeed will get better. Even worse, taking regular medications is a daily reminder that they are not well.

Keep an ongoing dialog with seniors about the medications they’re taking. Remind them that the medicine works best with a healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Point out improvements you see, which they may not. This can help to associate taking the medication with gradual health improvements.

3. They think there’s no longer any reason to take it

Sometimes it seems like a waste of time—and money—to take a medication if you’re feeling better. That’s always a decision best left to a health professional. Often, medications must continue to be taken even after a senior recovers from a health crisis.

No one is likely to appreciate hearing that they’ll have to take a daily medication for the rest of their lives. Seniors may exercise curiosity and decide to stop taking a medication to see if it changes the way they’re feeling. And, they probably will continue to feel fine for the short term.

The problem with this false sense of wellbeing is that they won’t really be able to determine whether drugs that treat conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure are working or not. Many health conditions in the elderly have few or no noticeable symptoms.

The most important thing to remember as a caregiver is that most seniors do not purposely skip medications with the intention of harming themselves. Many times, they simply need a reminder or reassurance that it the medication really is good for them, regardless of what they can or can’t feel.

Steering Clear of the Flu

Don’t look now, but the flu season is here. If you’re a senior or a caregiver, you’re high on the list for getting sick.

Our immune systems weaken as we get older. Caregivers often have more stress than other jobs, and that can weaken the immune system, too. There are ways to lessen the chances of catching—and passing on the flu bug. Here are some suggestions.

Get the Flu Vaccine

This advice tops just about every list of tips you’ll find on the subject. For two reasons. It lowers your risk of getting the flu in the first place, but it also decreases the severity of illness. Both reasons are advantages for seniors and their caregivers. December is not too late to get the vaccine.

Increase the Number of Times You Wash Your Hands

The flu can bring you to your knees, but turnabout is fair play. The flu virus is fragile and is no match for soap and water. How long do you need to wash your hands? It only takes about 20 seconds—or long enough to make it through 2 rounds of “Happy Birthday.”

A trip to the restroom or kitchen sink to wash your hands isn’t always practical, whether you’re a caregiver or a senior. Stock up on hand sanitizer. It’s just as effective.

Kick Up Your Cleaning Routine

Focus on areas where germs—including the flu virus—are likely to be found, such as doorknobs, light switches, and the counters in your bathroom and kitchen. Then be sure to disinfect the rags or sponges you clean these areas with.

A bleach solution is best, but you can always throw sponges in the dishwasher, or even in the microwave for 1 minute. That’s enough time to kill most bacteria and the flu virus.

Don’t Play the Hero

It’s not always practical, but you should stay away from others if you’ve got the flu. When you are around people displaying flu symptoms, avoid unnecessary contact. Most people are unaware of how often they touch their faces—and that’s one of the most common ways we introduce the flu virus to our bodies.

We also tend to forget about things like our smartphones. Make it a habit to wipe down the phone with rubbing alcohol or a sanitizing wipe—but pay careful attention not to get too much moisture on it.

And if you do come down with the flu, follow that age-old advice about getting plenty of fluids. It’s not an Old Wives Tale. Even plain water helps hydrate you, which aids the nasal passages in staying moist—which traps germs before they can enter the body.