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Avoid taking the wrong medication

For elderly people, an organiser with different compartments for medication helps them remember if they had taken their pills for the day.
For elderly people, an organiser with different compartments for medication helps them remember if they had taken their pills for the day.ST FILE PHOTO

Popping pills can transmute into a confusing daily exercise for elderly people who have multiple health problems and, therefore, rely on several types of medicine.

And if they are not careful, they may take the wrong dosage or the wrong tablet, especially if the medicines are the same size and colour.

Ms Punithamani Kandasamy, a registered nurse and caregiving trainer at Active Global, said: "There are medications that look similar in size, shape and colour, or have names that sound alike. This can lead to confusion and mistakes."

She said it is important for the patient to follow the correct route of using a particular medication.

"Swallowing a medicine that is meant to be chewed slowly or wrongly administering nasal sprays may not provide the intended relief," Ms Punithamani added.

Some medicines should not be consumed together as they could cause dangerous over-sedation when combined, she said.

One should be careful about taking medication prescribed by different doctors simultaneously, as they could contain the same ingredients, thus leading to an overdose.

Family members and caregivers may forget that elderly people tend to have swallowing difficulties.

"Saliva production lowers with age, which makes swallowing big pills difficult. This can sometimes cause gagging or choking," she said.

Other age-related problems, such as poorer vision and hearing, and having trouble remembering instructions and handling small items, may cause further frustration in the elderly when taking their medication.

Ms Punithamani shares ways to avoid some of these problems.

1. Reminders and organisers

There are specially designed organisers on the market that store medications for consumption at different times of the day.

These products may have compartments to categorise the medicine according to the doctor's instructions.

Some come with a digital time function, allowing users to set an alarm for the gadget to beep when it is time to take a particular dose.

Some battery-powered organisers can keep medicine compart- ments locked until it is time for a particular dose to be taken, so that the user does not overdose or retrieve the wrong medication.

2. Have the person's medical and drug history on hand

The information can come in handy when visiting the doctor or pharmacist, so that they can avoid giving medication that have conflicting interactions, complications or side effects. Some herbal health products may interact with Western medication too.

3. Store and label medicines properly

Review medicines in the house occasionally and throw out any expired drugs. Off-the-shelf medication and one-off prescribed medication should be kept away from daily tablets to avoid mix-ups.

In addition, have labels that state dosage instructions clearly, as well as alerts about a patient's allergies or potential side effects.

4. Special requests

If the elderly person has poor eyesight or a lack of fine motor skills - which makes it difficult for him to handle small items like tablets - let the pharmacist and doctor know.

They can then make changes like printing dosage instructions in larger fonts or putting the medi- cine in large, easy-to-open bottles.

If the patient has swallowing difficulties, check if the pills can be cut into half, be given in powder form, or mixed with food or water without dampening their effects.

Poon Chian Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'Avoid taking the wrong medication'. Print Edition | Subscribe