ASK THE PHARMACIST: Managing multiple medications

Q: My father is 83 and takes three types of diabetes medications to help keep his blood glucose in target range. Lately, I’ve noticed he is becoming more forgetful, and I’m worried he might not be taking his medication properly. What can I do to help?

A: Keeping track of medications and when to take them can be tricky at the best of times, and for the thousands of Canadians who live with a chronic illness, like diabetes, managing multiple medications can be a complicated task. Many people say one of the most difficult parts of being a caregiver is ensuring that their friend or loved one is taking their medication as prescribed. As we age, our memory may decline. This can make routine tasks, like taking pills or renewing prescriptions, more difficult.

A 2010 report by Ontario’s Health Quality Council showed that one in five Ontario seniors is taking medications with the potential for serious side effects or drug interactions, and that medication problems are a major cause of re-admission of patients to hospitals after discharge.

There are many ways a caregiver can help a friend or loved one manage their medications. Getting to know your father’s pharmacist is a good first step to ensuring he is taking the appropriate medication, at the correct dosage, at the right time and in the right way.

Be informed: Every time your father receives a new prescription, it’s important that he understand what the medication is for, how it will improve his health, and how often it needs to be taken. Write down the name and dosage of each new drug, as well as the benefits and potential adverse effects. Make sure you and your father completely understand all of the details. If you’re unsure, don’t be shy about asking for clarification.

Create a list: Create an updated list of all medications and dosages. Bring this list to all doctors’ appointments and to the pharmacy. This list should include over-the-counter drugs as well as herbal remedies. Pharmacists will ensure new prescriptions aren’t going to dangerously interact with past prescriptions or herbal remedies. Update the list regularly, make copies, and keep it in a convenient location in case of an emergency.

Talk to your pharmacist: Pharmacists have an in-depth knowledge of hundreds of prescription and non-prescription medications and are qualified to discuss your medications with you. They can help patients manage chronic disease and provide treatment options for many minor ailments. Bring a list of your father’s medications to the pharmacy when renewing medication if you’re concerned about interactions. Your pharmacist can offer counsel to you and your father on safe and appropriate use of his medications. In Ontario, MedsCheck enables patients to book an annual half-hour discussion with their pharmacist, at no charge to them, for a comprehensive medication review. Using the same pharmacist every time will also help the pharmacist get to know you and your loved one’s needs.

Make it easy: Store medication in a handy area of the house. For example, if your father habitually shaves every day at 6 a.m., keep the pill bottles and a glass of water next to his shaving kit. Organize pills into ‘days of the week’ containers that make it easy to see whether or not your parent has taken his pills each day. Set an alarm for medications that require multiple daily dosages. Some pharmacists may be able to dispense the patient’s medications in blister packs or compliance packaging.

Caring for elderly patients suffering from chronic conditions can be challenging, but by staying organized and informing your pharmacist about each prescription, caregivers can ensure their loved ones are getting the best results from their medications.

ASK THE PHARMACIST is an information series produced for by the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association. Questions are submitted to, and answered by, one or more members of the Association. Please submit your question by email to [email protected].

For more information about the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association, and the growing role pharmacists are playing in the health care system, visit

Note: All answers are intended to provide general guidance on health questions, and are not intended to provide diagnosis of specific medical conditions or recommendations for treatment, or to substitute for medical advice or treatment.

Photo © Jacob Wackerhausen

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