#2: When Medicines Change

There are many reasons why your loved one’s medicines might change. A stay in the hospital is one of the more common reasons. But sometimes a new drug comes on the market that the doctor thinks would be better. Or the pharmacist may have found one that has fewer side effects, or is a more affordable option.

It can be confusing when routines change. But not taking all the medicines, or not taking them when they need to be taken, can result in your loved one getting worse.

Be sure you understand:

  • Which new medicines have been added (what they are for, the strength of the medicine and how often it should be taken).
  • Which medicines have been dropped.
  • Which medicines remain but have been modified in some way. For instance, they now should be taken at a different strength or at a different time.

And don’t forget over-the-counter and non-pill types of medicines. In addition to prescription medicines, you should ask about changes in over-the-counter preparations. The pattern of taking vitamins, herbs, and simple pain relievers may also need to be changed. Plus, don’t forget that some drugs now come in the form of a patch. Others are syrups. And still others are delivered through an ointment or cream. Be sure you include these in your thoughts as you confirm the new medication schedule.

Especially after a hospitalization, your loved one may need help keeping track of the new medications, until the new regimen becomes a habit. Here are other ways you can help to be sure that your loved one continues toward a strong recovery:

  • Before leaving the hospital, make sure you understand the new medication schedule: what’s new, what’s been dropped and what’s been modified.
  • Be sure to get a good supply of any new medicines. If you don’t purchase this at the hospital pharmacy, stop by your pharmacy on the way home. Pick up a solid supply so there is no gap in dosage when your loved one gets home.
  • When you get home, compare the new medication schedule with the old one. Is there anything missing that surprises you? Quite often the hospital didn’t know about a medicine your loved one was taking when he or she was admitted. Just because it is not on the hospital discharge list does not mean the medicine should be stopped. If there are medicines your loved one was taking before, call the doctor. It may be that it simply was forgotten in the hubbub of the admission process and needs to be restarted now that your relative is home. If you are not sure, try calling the pharmacy and ask for a medication list. (Ideally your relative gets all medicines from one place.) The pharmacist can also help you compare the old list with the new. They have a lot of experience with this!
  • Set out a good week’s worth of medicine ahead of time. Use a pillbox that has a tray for each day. Preferably there’s even a tray for morning pills. One for mid-day. And one for evening or night.  You may need to fill the pillbox until your loved one is fully recovered and has mastered all the changes.
  • There is a much smaller chance for errors if you reduce distractions when filling the pillbox. The television, conversations or trying to do other things at the same time simply increases the chance of error. Medication errors are one of the most common causes of hospitalization, and re-hospitalization. You can avoid that by giving the pillbox your undivided attention when you fill it once a week.
  • Write out the new medication schedule and post it by the pillbox. Put the date on it. Ideally, you would also keep a copy for yourself and have your loved one carry a copy in his or her wallet. Be careful, though. Medications change often. If they do, you will want to update all the written lists. Or, you might consider an online medication tool. That way you only have to update the list in one place and anyone with the password can access the most current list from anyplace where there is an Internet computer.
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