caregiverDear Sheila,
I live about a 3 hour drive from my mom. I’ve never really worried about her − she’s in her late 70’s and up until now, seemed fine to me. The problem is I got a call from her doctor who said my mom keeps asking for prescription refills when she should have plenty of pills left.

I asked my mom about it but she was defensive and seemed confused about which of her doctors prescribed which medications, and for what reason. I usually visit her about once a month but now I’m worried again. Could she be taking too many of her pills and what should I do?
-Child of Pill-Popping Mom

Dear Child,
Difficulty with managing medications is one of the most common problems I hear about, and most likely doesn’t mean your mom has become a “pill-popping” enthusiast. But it could be a serious problem. Gretchen Williams, RPh, at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy and Director of the UW Pharmacy Cares program reports that incidents due to improper use of medications is a leading cause of not only hospital readmits but also a leading cause of vulnerable adults losing independence. “People will often mix up their own medications,” Gretchen says. “But misuse of prescription drugs is only part of the issue. We in the pharmacy world look out for improper use of over-the-counter drugs, supplements, vitamins, herbals and the like in addition to prescription drug use.”

Most of us would get confused if we had several medications we took at different times of the day, some with food and some without, prescribed by different doctors whose advice changes over time. Many of us too take other drugs and supplements our medical personnel never find out about. Keeping it all straight takes some thought and effort.

Sounds like it’s a good thing you’re going to visit your mom soon. I suggest you explore WHY your mom is having difficulty keeping her medications straight. Since she sounded confused and defensive when you called, I’m wondering whether she may be having some memory issues. There can be many reasons for memory issues and some of them are related to side effects from prescription drugs! My advice to you is to do some sleuthing. It’s important to find out what medications have been prescribed and what the medicine is for. Then you need to try to figure out what she’s actually been taking, including non-prescription drugs and supplements.

With some good medication management techniques we can make it easier for her to take just what she needs to take, and at the right time. Techniques include having your mom’s pharmacy set up weekly or monthly pill organizers, using one of the many technological medication reminders available on smart phones and tablets and hiring a nurse/care manager to do a monthly check-in with your mom. You can also bring in a weekly caregiver who can spend as little as 2 hours a week helping out not only with medication assistance but with housework, shopping and errands. Family Resource can help you find just the right nurse, care manager or caregiver for your mom. UW Pharmacy Cares is also an excellent resource for medication management ideas.

It would be a good idea to make an appointment with your mom’s physician or your pharmacist, and when you and your mom go, remember to bring all the medication, both prescription and over-the-counter, that you find in her home. The doctor will be able to review your medication list and make changes as necessary. Helping her manage her medications will mean a safer and healthier life for her, and less stress for you worrying about your pill-popping momma.

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