What can you do if your elderly parent stops taking medication?

Written by Ranger Home Care
16 April 2024

When an elderly parent stops taking their medication, it can be frustrating and worrying for loved ones. As it can result in causing further illness, pain or even a life-threatening situation, it’s important that prescribed medication is taken. But convincing elderly parents can be challenging and requires a lot of patience and empathy, as well as respecting their right to independence.  

To stop it becoming a daily battle of wills, let’s explore what loved ones can do when an elderly parent refuses medication.

Understanding why

It’s not advisable to simply insist that they take their medication, as this can lead to arguments, stress and further problems. Taking a step back from the situation will help you understand the reasons behind the refusal or reluctance to take their medication.

Then, once you know why, it’s easier to find a solution that works for everyone.

Possible reasons for an elderly parent not taking medication include:

  • Forgetfulness – Elderly people, especially those with early dementia or Alzheimer’s will suffer from frequent forgetfulness. If they don’t have regular prompts or reminders to take their medication, it is easy to miss medication times or not remember if they have taken it or not.  
  • Side Effects – Unpleasant side effects can lead elderly individuals to stop taking their medication. Statins, which lower cholesterol, can cause muscle pain, while sedative medications may lead to brain fog, dizziness or memory changes. If you are wondering when to stop statins in the elderly, make sure you consult the GP as soon as possible.
  • Confusing – If an elderly parent has a complicated medication schedule due to having a few chronic illnesses or conditions, it can be confusing for them. Tablets, capsules, liquid medication, inhalers, topical medications, injections – the various ways to take medication can also be overwhelming.
  • Denial – For some, it may be difficult to accept their health condition which leads to ignoring and refusing the medication. This can be hard for everyone concerned as the individual needs to accept they need their medication and loved ones might not be able to convince them.

Open communication: The first step

When approaching the subject with your elderly parents, begin with a heart-to-heart conversation. It’s important to use empathy and not to judge their opinion, even if you think it’s an unsafe or unreasonable one.

Make every effort to understand their fears and concerns. They could be scared of the medication making them feel confused, or worried about feeling sick with side effects. Perhaps they have heard something that has concerned them and need reassurance that it is safe to take. Your parent’s health condition may be deteriorating and further care could be needed.

Finding out the reasons why they are reluctant is essential to finding a solution, so why not consider the following tips for good communication.

Tips for good communication:

  1. Choose the right moment – Talk to them when they’re in a comfortable and familiar setting, free of distractions.
  2. Listen actively – Show that you are there to understand and support, not to lecture or judge them.
  3. Express concern, not frustration – Be clear that you’re concerned about their well-being and don’t let them see your frustration.

How to simplify medication management

If your elderly parent is struggling with the complexity of their medication, (remembering when and how many to take) simplifying it could make a huge difference. For example:

Use pill organisers – A long box split into seven sections, one for each day of the week, these are very effective in keeping track of whether medication has been taken. You can also get larger ones, with one section for each day of the month.

If someone (family member or carer) organises the tablets into each section at the start of a new week, it will be a lot easier for the individual to follow the schedule. And loved ones can also easily check whether medication on particular days has been taken.  

Use technology –Phones are excellent methods of keeping track of medication. There are any number of medication apps you can download to yours or your elderly parent’s phone. Using alarms on clocks, phones or even devices like Alexa and Siri can ensure your elderly parent never misses their medication.

Review the medication –Speaking to your parents’ GP could help as they may be able to simplify the schedule or even reduce the number of medications to make it easier and more manageable.

Managing side effects

All medications come with the risk of side effects. Most are manageable or barely noticeable, but some can be unpleasant and put people off their much-needed medication.

If this happens, it’s essential to consult the GP as the medication can often be adjusted to help. Also, in some situations, a few lifestyle changes such as dietary changes or physical activity can be all it needs to reduce any unpleasant side effects.

Getting help from healthcare professionals

Sometimes, the situation might need intervention from healthcare professionals. This could include:

  • Home healthcare services – A community nurse or care assistant who visits to administer medication and monitor daily health. Live-in care is also available to look after individuals 24/7 in their own homes.
  • Geriatric care managers – If you need support with an elderly parent, these care managers can co-ordinate a holistic care package, including help with medication advice.
  • Counselling –A mental health professional can help if an individual is in denial about their medication or feeling depressed because of their health.  

Legal and ethical considerations

In extreme cases where health is severely at risk, you might have to consider legal options like guardianship. This is the process where a family member or trusted friend becomes legally responsible for the elderly person because they can’t make decisions for themselves.  

However, this should be a last resort, approached with sensitivity and respect to ensure autonomy and dignity.

Support and help to care for your loved one

Remember to keep the lines of communication open. By figuring out what to do when the elderly stop taking medication, you can take care of their health while still respecting their independence and keeping a strong bond.

Ranger Home Care is a family-run care provider, with carers who live with your loved one in their home. They are trained to provide quality medical and emotional support and will give help and support in ensuring medication is taken when needed.  

If you want to know more about the benefits of live-in care, Ranger Home Care is ready to help. Call 01252 850040 or email natalie@rangerhomecare.com today.

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