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Overdose Awareness and Caregiving

Overdose Awareness and Caregiving

Informal and family caregivers play an important role in preventing an accidental overdose of prescription medication for loved ones who require care.

Elder overdose accidents are not typically related to addiction behaviors, but rather result from mismanagement of daily prescriptions. We bring this conversation to light, recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day, because managing medications is often typical for informal caregivers of older adults. Caregivers play a significant role in ensuring safe and appropriate medication is delivered to 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. Some of these notebooks resembled a pharmacology student’s manic scrapbook filled with medication stickers, photocopies of insurance cards, dates, doses, reactions and other fun Rx paperwork needed to keep everyone informed 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% of people over 65 are taking prescription medications.

A National Institutes of Health research report 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, accidental overdoses are all too common.

Causes of Senior Overdoses

According to CDC research, categories of drugs that should be monitored carefully include blood thinnersdiabetes treatmentsseizure medications and prescription opioids. The CDC reports that adults over 65 years of age visit emergency rooms 450,000 times per year related to an adverse drug event (ADE).

How Unintentional Overdoses Occur with Senior Medications

There are numerous ways an older adult can accidentally overdose. Some situations arise as aging progresses and communication becomes more of a challenge, others are based on financial concerns. All of these factors should weigh on medication routine planning. 

  • 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 may 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 are defined by the ingestion of incompatible medications.

Both the caregiver and care recipient 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 medications are administered per instructions as well as monitoring any adverse reactions. Medication management should be approached with compassion, diligence, and respect for one's sense of independence.

What’s in Your Caregiver Toolbelt to Help Manage Prescriptions?

Managing Medicine Dosages

Caregivers use alarms and pill boxes to manage daily medications. Further, they ensure all medical and personal information is shared with professionals part of the care team. Uploading and storing information such as appointments, medication notes, and documents to the Caregiven mobile app is more than just convenience. Caregiven offers tools and organization meant to reduce stress and feelings of overwhelm which might affect proper medication management. 

Creating the master list of my family’s medical records with information such as surgeries, immunizations, allergies and general health history (i.e. diabetes, cancer) was easier with an online template that we could update as necessary. Within the Caregiven mobile app, you'll find a link to the FDA form under Healthcare Related Documents. Once uploaded, this information will be held in a completely secure environment and only available to designated members of your Care Circle.   

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
    • Perform 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 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. 

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.

How to Safely Dispose of Unused Prescriptions and Supplies

  • 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
  • You can also review these FAQs from the FDA about unused drug disposal
  • The FDA also has an excellent video regarding unused and expired medicines
  • 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

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