Dementia is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s a progressive disease that affects the brain and causes a decline in cognitive function.
Taking medication is essential for the treatment of any medical condition, and Alzheimer’s and dementia are no exception.
One of the biggest challenges that caregivers and family members face when taking care of dementia patients is getting them to take their medicine.
People with dementia often refuse to take their medication for various reasons such as memory loss, confusion, unpleasant side effects, depression, or simply because they do not want to take it.
In this article, we will discuss some effective ways to get dementia patients to take their medicine.
1. Understand your loved one’s behavior
It’s essential to understand the patient’s behavior to determine why they may be refusing medication.
Dementia patients may refuse medication because they do not remember to take it, they may not understand why they need to take it, or they may be afraid of taking medication.
Or, they are not feeling well or uncomfortable, and are not in any state of mind to bother with taking medications.
Some of the medications they are taking can cause unpleasant negative drug effects, and someone with Alzheimer’s may become frustrated because they cannot communicate their feelings to you.
People with Alzheimer’s disease or other related dementias may have trouble swallowing pills in the late stages of their disease process.
If your loved one with Alzheimer’s is resisting medications and you are forcing them, they may become agitated and less likely to cooperate.
Understanding the reason behind their refusal will help caregivers and family members find a solution to the problem.
2. Simplify medication instructions
Dementia patients may have difficulty understanding complex medication instructions. It’s essential to simplify the instructions and use simple language.
Use short sentences and don’t reason, explain, or argue with them.
For example, instead of saying “Take two pills every 12 hours,” you can say “Take two pills in the morning and two pills at night.”
Better yet, focus on one medication administration at a time.
For example, for the morning dose, you can say, “take these two pills now.”
Then, when it is time to take the evening dose, you can repeat the instructions you gave your loved one earlier in the day.
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3. Use reminders
Using reminders can be an effective way to get dementia patients to take their medicine. You can use an alarm clock, a calendar, or a pillbox to remind your loved one when it’s time to take their medication.
However, it is important to remember that these solutions will not work as dementia progresses.
In the later stages of the disease, your older adult may not remember what the purpose of the alarm or reminder is and may simply turn it off because it is uncomfortable to hear.
At this stage, they will need more hands-on care and direction from you or a caregiver.
4. Use positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool to encourage your loved one with dementia to take their medicine. You can reward them with a treat after they finish, such as a favorite snack, a small piece of chocolate, or a small gift.
5. Give the patient a sense of control
Giving your loved one a sense of control can help them feel more involved in the process of taking medication. You can allow them to choose which medication to take first or give them a choice of which drink to mix their medication with.
For example, you can hand them the pill, wait patiently for them to put it in their mouth, and finish by saying, “big drink.”
That said, medication safety is very important! Place pill bottles out of sight and only show them the pills they need to take at the moment.
Your loved one may forget or get confused and take an extra dose of the medication.
6. No forcing! Try again later
Related to the previous point, if your loved one feels that they don’t have any control, they are going to resist taking their medication. Again, don’t argue with them – you will always lose!
If you get angry with your loved one, they’ll be able to sense it and may get more upset.
You can simply walk away, then try again in 10 or 15 minutes.
7. Reduce polypharmacy!
Polypharmacy or overmedication is responsible for 30% of hospitalizations and is the fifth leading cause of death among older adults in the United States!
Many seniors with dementia take unnecessary prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and dietary supplements that can increase their risk for falls, confusion, delirium, and worsening of their cognitive and functional impairment.
The more medications a senior is taking, the higher the chances of them experiencing a negative medication reaction. The evidence here is very clear, and I see it ALL the time in my clinical practice.
Polypharmacy is such a big problem in my experience, that I volunteer my time to speak to senior citizen groups locally, regionally, and nationally, about this unrecognized problem harming our older adults.
Read my detailed article about this common problem for older adults here.
Ask the pharmacist or doctor if your older adult still needs all of their medications. And, ask their doctor to get rid of all unnecessary medications.
Get my e-book on optimizing medication safety in older adults, written specifically for the regular person.
8. Use liquid medication
People with dementia may find it hard to swallow their pills, which can make it challenging for them to take their medication. Using liquid medication can be an effective solution to this problem.
9. Use pill crushers
Pill crushers can be used to crush some pills, which can then be mixed with food or drink. This can make it easier for someone with dementia to take medication.
VERY IMPORTANT: Only some pills are crushable! Many are NOT! Many medications are purposely made to release slowly into the system over a long period of time.
This is usually seen in medications that are taken once daily. Crushing these medications and giving them to your loved one can cause too much of the drug to enter the bloodstream, causing harm and possible death!
It is very important that you ALWAYS consult with your doctor or pharmacist before you crush the pills.
10. Mix medication with food or drink
Mixing medication with food or drink can make it more palatable for dementia patients to take their medicine. You can mix the medication with a favorite drink, such as juice or soda, or with food, such as pudding or applesauce.
11. Making medications part of a routine
Establishing a routine works well because they’re able to remember when it’s time to take their medication. You can create a medication schedule and make it a part of your loved one’s daily routine.
Taking medications as part of their after-meal routine works well.
12. Involve family and caregivers
Getting family and caregivers involved in the process of taking medication can make it easier for dementia patients to take their medicine. They can offer support and help ensure that the patient takes their medication as prescribed.
13. Consider the side effects of medication
Some medications may have side effects that can make it difficult for dementia patients to take them.
It’s essential to talk to the doctor and discuss any side effects the patient may be experiencing.
The doctor may be able to adjust the dosage or switch to a different medication to help make it easier for the patient to take their medicine.
14. Ask the doctor or pharmacist first
It’s important to communicate with your doctor or pharmacist about any difficulties your loved one may be having with taking medication. Your provider may be able to provide additional guidance or suggest alternative methods to help your older adult take their medicine.
15. Be patient and persistent
Encouraging your loved one with dementia to take their medication can be a long process that requires patience and persistence. It’s important to remain positive and keep trying different methods until you find what works best for your older adult.
Getting seniors with dementia to take their medicine can be challenging, but it’s essential for their overall health and well-being.
Understanding your loved one’s behavior, simplifying medication instructions, using reminders, and involving family and caregivers can all be effective ways to encourage them to take their medicine.
By being patient and persistent and working with the doctor, caregivers and family members can help ensure that their loved one gets the medication they need safely and effectively.
Q: What can I do if my loved one refuses to take their medication?
A: If your loved one refuses to take their medication, it’s important to try different methods to encourage them to take it, such as using reminders, positive reinforcement, or involving family and caregivers.
Q: Can I crush pills to make them easier to swallow?
A: Not all medications can be crushed. Some drugs can release too much medication into the bloodstream when crushed, causing harm and possibly death. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist first.
Q: What if my loved one experiences side effects from their medication?
A: If your senior experiences side effects from their medication, it’s important to talk to the doctor and discuss any concerns. The doctor may be able to adjust the dosage or switch to a different medication to help make it easier for your loved one to take their medicine.
Q: How can I establish a routine for taking medication?
A: You can create a schedule for taking medication and make it a part of your senior’s daily routine. Using reminders can also help establish a routine for taking medication.
Q: What if my loved one with dementia still refuses to take their medication after trying different methods?
A: If they still refuse to take their medication, it’s important to talk to the doctor and discuss any concerns. The doctor may be able to provide additional guidance or suggest alternative methods to help your older adult take their medicine.