By Larry Peterson
This is an updated version of an article from 2016.
In America, one in ten people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s Disease. (There are also other types of Dementia, such as Vascular Dementia or Lewy Body Dementia). Since I was the caregiver for my wife, Marty, who had this insidious illness (she passed away in March of 2017), I thought I would share some of my experience in dealing with the medication factor. It was a challenge, to say the least because the meds were being adjusted continuously and frequently changed to something different.
Medicine distribution by the caregiver could be the most critical factor in a person’s quality of life. Medications are powerful and, if used as directed, can not only prolong the patient’s life but can also help maintain a better quality of life for a more extended period of time. Please note: There is no “magic pill” that cures Alzheimer’s Disease.
My first tip is, and I believe this may be the best tip I can give anyone: You called a plumber when you had a broken water pipe, or you have taken your car to an auto mechanic if it keeps on stalling. Naturally, you have called a doctor for a damaged loved one. You need their expertise, and you should expect crisp, clear answers to any questions you may have. Whether or not the patient is your spouse, child, parent, grandparent, or old Aunt Lucille, first and foremost, never be afraid to ask questions, any question.
Alzheimer’s Disease presents in three general stages; early-stage (mild), middle-stage (moderate), and late-stage (severe). During the early stages, the patient will still be able to interact with you about the medications they are receiving. However, as time goes by, invariably, these meds will change and increase in dosages. Besides, the patient will start to lose the ability to understand what is going on. That is when your responsibility begins moving into high gear, especially when it comes to med distribution.
Marty suffered from several illnesses. Besides Alzheimer’s Disease, she was recovering from cancer (Lymphoma), had A-Fib (Atrial Fibrillation is a leading cause of strokes), hypertension, and a severely broken ankle. This required the involvement of not only her primary care doctor but also an oncologist, a cardiologist, and an orthopedist. They had all prescribed different meds.
What follows seems very simple and straightforward, but some folks are seriously intimidated by being a caregiver. Cooking meals, doing laundry, cleaning the house, or making doctors’ appointments requires organizational skills and patience. When you are presented with a bag of various medications, it can be an intimidating experience.
You look in the bag and see a bunch of vials and a packet of paperwork. The paperwork includes individual explanations and descriptions of each of the meds in the bag. Take a breath, stand each vial on the table or counter, and match each one to its corresponding paperwork. The next thing you MUST do for yourself is to purchase a pill box organizer. These are (in my opinion–indispensable). Since I had to distribute meds 4X a day, I bought an organizer that had four rows of seven-day pockets with snap-lock lids. I also had an organizer that had two rows of seven pockets, which I used for vitamin supplements.
The next step is to make a list of every one of the meds. Check the dosage of each, and how many times a day it is supposed to be given. (FYI–the letter X denotes times per day, so a 3X means three times a day). I entered my list into a word.doc format and stored it in my computer. This way, it was easy to update as the prescriptions were often being updated. I also printed copies out and always had one with me when visiting one of the doctors or making a visit to the hospital. They always asked for the kinds of medications the patient was taking as they compared it to their list.
Once a week, usually on a Saturday evening, I would clear the table and spread the medicine vials out. After several weeks I began to know exactly where everything was supposed to go. For example, Furosemide (a water pill, aka Lasix) could only be given on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; Coumadin (a blood thinner, was given in doses of 6mg 4X a week and 7.5 mg 3X a week). The pillbox organizer made it quite simple to separate these meds properly into their designated days.
Once the pillbox organizer was filled, I was ready for the week ahead. When Sunday morning came the routine started all over. I just had to open the Sunday morning box and take out those pills and give them to my patient. Trust me, organizing medications for the week ahead is crucial to keeping them in order, dispensing them, and keeping track of what meds were given.
Final suggestion; Pray and never lose faith. For the caregiver, that is the best medicine of all.
copyright ©Larry Peterson 2020