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Overdose Awareness and Caregiving

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This is an article that addresses how informal /family caregivers have a role in helping avoid an accidental overdose of prescription medication with the loved ones they care for.

Elder overdose accidents are not typically related to addiction behaviors, but rather are an accident resulting from managing their day to day prescriptions. We are bringing this conversation to light in relation to Overdose Awareness Day because managing medications, interactions and health are a part of life for informal caregivers of older adults. Caregivers have a big role in ensuring safe and appropriate medication management for their loved ones.

I helped my parents manage their prescriptions, keeping track in spiral notebooks of what they took when and how they physically and emotionally reacted to the medicines. Some of these notebooks resembled a pharmacology students’ manic scrapbook filled with the medication stickers, photocopies of insurance cards, dates, doses, reactions and other fun RX paperwork that was needed to keep everyone up-to-date when I was not available.

Big Numbers

Older adults are nearly seven times as likely as younger persons to have adverse drug events that require hospitalization and 83% percent of people over 65 are taking prescription medications.

In a National Institutes of Health research report it is noted that 78% of unpaid caregivers manage medications by prepping pill boxes, administering intravenous fluids and even performing injections. Over half of caregivers administer 5 or more different prescription medications a day, with close to 20% administering 10 or more. With this many medications taken on a regular basis; an accidental overdose could be a problem for anyone.

Opioids Aren’t the Cause of Most Senior Overdoses

CDC researchers report that there are three common drug classes—anticoagulants (blood thinners), diabetes treatment medicines and opioid analgesics—were responsible for nearly 60% drug-related hospitalizations among people age 65 and older. From that report the CDC identifies blood thinners (such as warfarinexternal), diabetes medications (such as insulinexternal), seizure medications (such as phenytoinexternal), and opioid analgesics are a few specific medications that need to watched.

How Unintentional Overdoses Can Occur with Senior Medications

There are numerous ways an older adult can accidentally overdose, some situations are a natural part of aging, some are based on financial concerns and others on communication issues, but all need to figure into medication routines.

  • Memory loss
  • Hearing difficulties
  • Vision problems + small print
  • Splitting pills to stretch medications
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Metabolic personal changes due to diet and other health factors 

Overdoses can occur if an elderly patient takes too much of a prescribed medication or mixes the prescription with over-the-counter medicines or alcohol. Crossover reactions can happen when a care recipient takes incompatible medications.

While both the caregiver and the patient play a part in reducing prescription overdose risk by being open, detailed, and specific with health care professionals and pharmacies; informal caregivers have a unique role to ensure that the medications are followed per instructions as well as monitoring any adverse reactions. All this needs to be done with compassion, diligence, and respect for your loved one’s sense of independence.

Managing Medicine DosagesWhat’s in Your Caregiver Toolbelt to Help Manage Perscriptions?

Caregivers use alarms, pill boxes, and containers to manage daily medications. Ensuring that all medical and personal facts are shared with professionals along with is part of what we do. This is where uploading and storing information, documents, and  medication lists in the Caregiven mobile app is more than just convenience. The tools and organization can reduce stress, feeling overwhelmed and bad surprises when managing medications.

Creating the master list of my family’s medical records with information such as surgeries, immunizations, allergies and family health history (i.e. diabetes, cancer) was easier with an online template and we updated it as we went.   You can do this in the Caregiven mobile app in the Documents section in Healthcare tab.  Do this to make sure your documents are available in secure environment and you can share with your care circle to keep everyone in the loop.  

Caregiver Medication Management Tips From the CDC:

  • Maintain an up-to-date list of medications and dosages
  • Track medication start, end, and expiry dates
  • Use medications exactly as prescribed and directed by a doctor
  • Know side effects that influence decisions made after taking medications (e.g. drowsiness)
  • Act quickly on symptoms that may indicate an adverse drug reaction (rash)
  • Inform and Support the Doctor and Professional Health Teams
    • Ensure ALL doctors have current and complete medication information
    • Discuss questions with the prescribing doctor or a pharmacist
    • Get all prescribed blood tests
    • Report all interactions or side effects

What to do in the event of accidental overdose in a caregiving situation:

  1. If the person is responsive:
    • In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning and overdose.
  2. If the person is not responsive:
    • Call 911, and make sure that the dispatcher knows exactly where you are
    • Stay on the phone until help arrives

Safely dispose of unused prescriptions:

  • The best way to dispose of most types* of unused or expired medicines (both prescription and OTC) is to drop off the medicine at a drug take back site, location, or program 
  • Some FDA FAQs are here
  • Video here
  • Call the Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA's) Office of Diversion Control’s Call Center at 1-800-882-9539
  • Check the DEA's website for authorized collection sites near you

As always Caregivers, we offer you warm words of encouragement and work every day to build the tools and resources to help you forge your way through with confidence.



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