Medication Emergencies for the Practical Caregiver

It's one of those facts of life. As people grow older, the number of medications they take usually increases. The average senior takes five prescription drugs a day. While these potent medications make it possible for seniors to live a full life with what otherwise might be a debilitating condition, the power of these medications makes them dangerous if taken incorrectly. The more medications seniors take, the more likely they are to have an adverse drug interaction or accidental overdose. Only about 5 percent of poisonings involve adults over 60, but nearly half of all poisoning-related deaths occur in this age group.

As a caregiver, you can take a number of steps to ensure your loved one gets the full benefit from their medications without the risks:

  • Have your loved one's doctor or pharmacist review all the medications they take—including all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal remedies—to identify potential side effects. It also helps to have all your loved one's prescriptions filled by a single pharmacist, who can then gain an overview of your loved one's medication needs.
  • Request that the labels on your loved ones' medications be printed in large type so that they can read them easily. Because it may be difficult for your loved one to remember the precise name of a medication, print its purpose (blood thinner, heart medication, etc.) on the label as well.
  • Have your loved one use dosage containers so they can divide their medications by the day and time they need to take them. Don't rely on their memory.
  • Ask your loved one never to take medications in the dark. It's all too easy to mix them up.

Even if you take these precautions, it just makes sense to be prepared to respond to an accidental poisoning or harmful interaction. Because it is natural to become rattled if you discover your loved one has been accidentally poisoned, you should write down answers to questions that emergency responders commonly ask, such as the approximate weight of your loved one, the medications your loved one takes on a regular basis, and any medical problems they experience, like diabetes or high blood pressure. Keep this information near the phone should you ever need it. Your ability to provide accurate information quickly can make a big difference.