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Tips for handling the medication needs of a loved one
Looking after the medication needs of another person is a huge responsibility, and can often become quite a complicated task. Here are our top tips on successfully assisting someone with their medication needs.
If in doubt, always ask the pharmacist, GP or call NHS “111”, or in an emergency call “999”.
When dealing with the medication needs of another person, it’s important to be knowledgeable about the person’s condition, the type and purpose of medications that have been prescribed, and what to expect in the way of side effects. This ensures that you’ll know at the earliest opportunity when something goes wrong.
When medication is supplied by the pharmacy, the packets will contain inserts called Patient Information leaflets (PIL). We’d strongly recommend that you keep these leaflets for further reference.
Alternatively, there are many websites where you can look up information on medication, these include:
- NHS: www.nhs.co.uk/medicines
- Patient UK: www.patient.info
- Electronic medicines compendium
Here are some tips on being knowledgeable about medications:
- Have a discussion with the GP about the medication that is being prescribed, its purpose, and anticipated side effects. Be mindful of any other tablets that might be being taken, e.g. Vitamin supplements, St. John’s Wort or other homoeopathic remedies as these may be harmful or interfere with the other medicines that are in use.
- Discuss with the dispensing pharmacist if there are any specific instructions on how/when the medicine should be taken.
- Always keep the written information that accompanies prescriptions safe for future reference. If you intend to decant the medication into a pill dispenser you should also keep the original packaging. In some cases, certain foods may need to be avoided and the pharmacy should advise you of this on the packaging and it will be in the information leaflet which we’d advise you to read.
- Ask the pharmacist how the medication should be stored; only ever refrigerate the drug if directed to do so.
- Ask the pharmacist and or the GP whether the medicine can be crushed or dissolved- this should only be done on their instruction
- Ask the GP or pharmacist if the drug is addictive or if it’s common that people become dependent on it.
- You can ask the GP to direct the District Nurse to do a home visit and teach your client about their medication, and how to take it safely.
- Be aware of pharmacy opening hours, and what out of hours/emergency provisions they may have in place
With all the complicated names of medications these days, never mind the variable doses, it’s easy to lose track of what should be taken and when. Here are some simple tips to make sure that you don’t lose your way.
- Keep a record of what has been prescribed, when and by whom, in a file. If possible, keep the original packaging and information sheets with this record for ease of reference. When a person goes on holiday or is admitted to hospital, take this file with you, together with the prescribed drugs in case the hospital does not have them to hand in their own pharmacy.
- If forgetfulness is a problem, or perhaps there are multiple people involved in the care of your loved one, create a chart that lists the days of the week, the medications prescribed, and the time they’re to be taken. Cross off the drug each time it’s taken, or record if and when any medications were missed and what action was taken (e.g. if 111 or the GP was called for advice and what steps were taken).
- If a person is admitted to hospital, it’s helpful to take any records you have detailing medication in use. This can also include the repeat prescription paperwork if you have it or any handheld records you may have at the home from other health care professionals
- Make sure you’re aware of any allergies and the effect that has on the person.
- Keep a list of drugs on the refrigerator or other equally visible place, and, if necessary ensure that all family members have an up to date copy of the list in case of emergency. This could be done electronically and saved to a mobile phone, or a printed copy could be kept in a wallet or purse.
- It’s always best to keep your business with one reliable local pharmacy only as any irregularities in prescriptions can be caught and managed early. Ask about their home delivery services if you think that this would be of benefit.
Improper use of medications can have disastrous consequences so safety should always be at the forefront of your mind when dealing with the medication needs of yourself and others.
- Ensure that all medication is kept in original containers. If blister packs or dispensers are used, make sure a note is kept describing each pill so that they can be easily identified. The pharmacy may be able to help with this.
- Ensure that if easy-open containers are to be used, that these are kept well out of the reach of children who may live in the home, or are likely to visit
- If necessary, ask the pharmacist for large print labels, or keep a magnifying glass near to the medication so as to ensure that labels can be read with ease. Think about a reminder label on the boxes, reminding them to put on their glasses.
- When filling a prescription, check that the name of the drug on the label matches the prescription form before leaving the pharmacy.
- Never share medication with others
- Ensure pills are dispensed and taken in a well-lit room. Pills should not be kept near the bed in the event of the wrong medication or a wrong combination being taken by a sleepy person.
- Discard all medicines that have expired or that have no labels. This can be done by handing them into any pharmacy for safe destruction. Do not simply flush down the toilet or throw in the bin.
- Do not mix alcohol and drugs.
- Consult with the GP or pharmacist if over-the-counter remedies are required to ensure that they’re not contra-indicated with anything that has been prescribed.
- When buying over-the-counter remedies, always check the packaging for signs of tampering. If a seal has been broken or it looks like the box has been opened, give it to the pharmacist and select another
- Discuss any adjustments that may have to be made to keep the person safe, e.g. not standing up too quickly to avoid dizziness etc.