Seniors typically don’t enjoy taking prescription and over-the-counter medications, which can result in changes in medication adherence. Family caregivers are often tasked with managing their aging loved ones’ medications because even small changes in a drug regimen can have big health consequences. The AgingCare.com Caregiver Forum is filled with people coming together to share valuable information. We’ve compiled experienced caregivers’ suggestions for persuading elders to take their medications as prescribed.

Using Incentives, Verbal Encouragement and Redirection

“Every time I give my mom her medications, I tell her what a great sport she is. Somehow that seems to work. As she is taking them, I talk to her about something really good coming up after she takes the pills, such as eating a muffin, which is her favorite.” –suddenlysally7

“A technique that I see staff use regularly with my dad and others in his memory care unit is, when the patients say they don’t need or want their medication, the staff just ‘forget’ about it and walk away. They come back after a couple minutes and start a conversation about something the patient can discuss, like their life as a child or a trip they remember enjoying—anything that will get them reminiscing and talking. Then, while they are sharing and talking, the staff member will just hand them the pills and a drink without saying anything. The residents just go along with taking them, because their mind is already focused on something else. If it seems as though a senior is going to focus on the pills, the staff member just asks another question about what they were just discussing. You may have to walk away and come back a few times for this to work. It’s called diversion. For those with dementia, it works really well to calm agitation and defuse anger. By the time you come back again or get them focused on something else, they may have totally forgotten what had them upset.” –joannes

“If they are not cognitively impaired, you might consider telling your loved one that they don’t have to take the medication if they don’t want to. This will give them back some of the power they have lost.” –ferris1

“My wife has been bedridden for almost four years with dementia. There are moments when she refuses to be cooperative. At those times, I simply change the subject. Two minutes later, she has forgotten the problem and then I try again, repeating the procedure as needed. So far that technique has worked. If necessary, I would prioritize certain medicines. Some are much more important than others.” –Dirk

“My mother, who is 76 years old and has depression, refuses to take her medications. We now tell her to please take her ‘vitamins’ because we need her to be healthy. If they are called medications, she won’t take the pills, so we started framing it in a way that she accepts.” –Jigsmoreno57

“I have had pretty good success with my mom by doing a few things. I have a daily pill dispenser so that none of the pills are in their original containers for Mom to see. Therefore, they are all ‘vitamins’ to keep her healthy, because I want to keep her around as long as I can! I take mine at the same time she takes hers, even though mine really are just vitamins. I have Mom take the most important ones first, meaning the actual medication, followed by true vitamins or other meds that aren’t as important.” –RobinF

“A matter-of-fact approach may help. If you are anticipating your loved one will be uncooperative, you may be projecting doubt or anxiety that they are picking up on. Maybe start a conversation about what you both are going to do after they take their medication. Perhaps the term ‘redirect’ is pertinent here. It seems we must make adjustments often to cope with new challenges.” –ChristinaW


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“My mom is 91 and has been in the nursing home a couple of times in the last two years and in a rehab hospital. She refused her medications, mainly because the staff would come up to her with a cup of pills and want her to down them all at once. She is now very suspicious about any medication they try to make her take. I wrote a large sign and hung it up in my mom’s room stating that if she refused her medication, they were to call me from her room on my cell phone and I would talk to her. I then tell her that her regular doctor (she really likes him) wants her to take this medicine and he is going to be very upset if she doesn’t. That usually does the trick.” –GayleinJaxFL

“Occasionally my mom will get annoyed at the number of pills I give her and ask, ‘What would happen if I just stopped taking these?’ I tell her that she would suffer from low potassium and magnesium and slip into a coma and die. Then I tell her it is an option but not a great one. Then she shoots me a dirty look and takes the pills. I give her a similar line when she asks what would happen if she stopped going to see the doctor. No doctor, no pills, same result.” –DownSouth

“My mom has memory issues. Even though Dad would set the pills in front of her, she may or may not take them. Since they moved into an assisted living facility, she gets her pills at the same time every day. Developing a routine is important for dementia patients on many levels. She’s improved so much that it is amazing! She’ll never get her memory back, but her health is better, and she’s more sociable. I’m convinced the regularity of the pills is one of the reasons she’s doing so much better!” –my2parents

“Consider the timing of their medications. If your loved one is refusing their medication, particularly in the morning, it could be that they find the medicine more tolerable on a full stomach by the end of the day. Side-effects can be a powerful deterrent. I can’t take vitamin D or vitamin B-12 in the morning because it upsets my stomach, even if I take the pills right after breakfast. But in the afternoon or later in the evening, I have no problem.” –freqflyer