Managing Medications

One way to ensure an accurate record of all current medications is to request a printout from the pharmacy. Each time a new prescription is filled, a new list should be requested. A comprehensive list of medications including over-the-counter medicines, herbal remedies, vitamins, and any other doctor-recommended medication should be added to the list and carried with the person as a convenient reference.

For each medicine on the list, include: 

  • Name of the medication 
  • Strength of the medication
  • What the medication is being used to treat 
  • The dosage taken 
  • How often the medication is taken 

Regular medicines that must be taken or those medicines required for emergencies should be starred or highlighted.

Some people who take multiple medications have trouble managing to take them properly all the time. It is important to ask for assistance if it’s needed and consider the dispensing options that will ensure medication is being taken or administered properly.

Safe Handling of Syringes and Sharps

People who use syringes or sharps for their medical treatment must be sure to practice safe-handling and disposal to safeguard their family, friends and caregivers from potentially-dangerous needle pricks.

Sharps containers and returns are available at most pharmacies. If a sharps container is not available, some alternatives include a metal coffee tin or empty bleach bottle that is clearly labelled as a sharps container.  Do not use glass.

Safe-handling practices include:

  • Placement of all syringes and sharps in a sealed, clearly labelled, puncture proof container immediately after use.
  • Make sure that the container is placed safely out of reach from children.
  • Do not over-fill a sharps container.  When the container is 3/4 full, take it to a local pharmacy or municipal hazardous waste disposal centre for safe disposal.
  • Never recap or reuse any needle.
  • Do not manually bend or break a needle.
  • Do not dispose of sharps in the garbage or down the toilet.

Dispensing Options 

Pill bottles are the most common method that pharmacies use to dispense medications and they come in varying sizes.  Although some bottles will have a snap-top lid, typically they have a child-proof, twist-off lid. It can be difficult to read the label on some pill bottles but most pharmacies offer a large print option for people with deteriorating vision.

Pill bottles can be difficult to manage when taking multiple prescriptions, particularly if they must be taken at different times throughout the day, because there is more room for human error. Missed doses, extra doses, or taking the wrong medication can occur if the prescriptions are not properly organized.  

Beacon highly recommends that medications be “blister packed”, as studies show that this reduces medication error and increases safety. A blister pack  is prepared by a pharmacist to organize all of a person’s medications, grouping them by the day of the week and time of day they must be taken. The pills and capsules are placed in a series of plastic ‘punch out’ sections on a sheet that allows the individual or caretaker to easily see when medications were last taken and when they must be taken again.

A dosette is a do-it-yourself alternative to blister packs that is particularly useful for those whose medications change frequently. The individual using the medications or a caregiver fills the dosette based on the day and time medications must be taken. The plastic containers have multiple sections to hold the medications; each one is covered with an easy-to-use, flip-up lid.  Dosettes can be purchased at most pharmacies and usually hold a one week supply of medication. A variety of sizes are available with different labeling options, depending on the needs of the user.

A relatively new way to safely manage medication dispensing is an automated dispensing service. A client or their caretaker fills plastic cups with medications according to the medication schedule and loads them into an automated dispenser. Medication is dispensed at the press of a button when a reminder alarm sounds. Programming for reminders is done by the dispensing service, according to the medication schedule. The dispenser is connected to the client's telephone line, so if a dose is missed, the dispenser will make a call to a caregiver to alert them to the missed dose. There are additional programming options to help clients with issues such as taking medications other than pills or capsules that can’t be dispensed by the machine.