"I don't want to take those pills because…"

As a caregiver, how many times have you heard your loved one start off a sentence this way?

Papatya Tankut, vice president of professional pharmacy services at CVS/pharmacy, offers solutions to three common complaints of seniors who won't take their meds:

  • "It tastes bad." The first step here is to make sure your loved one's meds can be taken with the proverbial ‘spoonful of sugar.' Look on the bottle to make sure the prescription can be taken with food. Tankut says some important things to watch out for are whether the medicine: has to be taken on an empty stomach, can't be crushed, or can't be taken with dairy products or certain types of juice. If the medication can be taken while eating, she suggests placing pills inside small pieces of food, or taking liquid medications in conjunction with a tasty beverage. If a tablet cannot be crushed, you can still put it in their food—just make sure that it's something your loved one can swallow without chewing, like applesauce. For meds that can't be taken with food, Tankut suggests telling your loved one to place the medicine on the back of their tongue and swallow it with a large glass of water.
  • "It upsets my stomach, makes me tired, etc." Unfortunately, when it comes to some of the more powerful medications needed to combat health problems in the elderly side effects can be unpleasant and, in some cases, unavoidable. Tankut says that caregivers should make efforts to become well-versed in the common side effects of their loved one's medications before they begin taking them. It is also a good idea to periodically ask your loved one how their medications are making them feel. Note that the use of multiple medications may actually be harmful. If a senior's prescriptions are having a consistently negative impact on their health, Tankut suggests bringing this to the attention of their doctor or pharmacist. The health professional will know what (if anything) can be done to alleviate your loved one's symptoms and prevent future complications.
  • "I just don't feel like it." There are a host of reasons why a senior may not "feel like" taking their medications, from denial about their medical condition, to having difficulty opening up the prescription bottle. Most of these issues can be rectified, but you have to know what the real problem is before you can figure out how to fix it. You can try getting to the root cause of your loved one's resistance by asking them to clarify their objection to taking their medicine. It may help to say something to the effect of, "I really want to understand where you're coming from, could you tell me a little more about why you don't want to take your meds?" Listen carefully to their answer and see if you can tease out what the issue with their medication really is. If your loved one remains resistant and vague, don't lose your temper, this will only make them less likely to cooperate. Maintain a positive, supportive demeanor, and seek help from their doctor or pharmacist. These medical professionals have experience with your loved one's specific medications and they may be able to offer some insight into why a senior might be reluctant take them. If the issue goes beyond the medication itself (i.e. your loved one is depressed, or won't admit that they really have a particular medical issue) a doctor may be able to refer the elder to a therapist, who may be able to help them come to terms with their ailment and convince them that taking their medication will help them feel better. If your loved one is resistant to taking their prescription because they "don't believe" in taking meds, a doctor may also be able to provide suggestions for alternative therapies that don't involve taking pills.

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