Caring for a Loved One with Dementia: Encouraging Medication Compliance

Published on March 11, 2024

Updated on March 9, 2024

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be challenging. One common struggle caregivers face is ensuring their loved one takes their medications. Dementia can make understanding and remembering medications difficult. In this , we'll explore effective strategies for encouraging dementia patients to take their medications, considering their unique needs.

Simplify Medication Management

Taking medications can be hard for people with dementia. They may forget to take them, take too many, or refuse to take them. This can make their condition worse and cause more problems. Here are some ways to simplify medication management and encourage medication compliance:

Organize Medications: Use a pill organizer to sort medications by day and time. This helps patients understand their medication schedule better. You can also label the pill organizer with clear words and pictures, such as “morning”, “afternoon”, “night”, or “breakfast”, “lunch”, “dinner”. This can help them remember when to take their medications and what they are for. Also consider asking if your pharmacy can set up pill packets by day and time.

Limit Complexity: Work with healthcare providers to simplify the medication regimen if possible. Fewer medications and dosing times can reduce confusion. Ask the doctor if there are any medications that can be stopped, combined, or switched to a different form, such as liquid or patch. Also, try to avoid medications that have similar names, colors, or shapes, as this can cause mix-ups.

Create a Calm and Comfortable Environment

Giving medications to someone with dementia can be stressful for both of you. The patient may not understand why they need to take them, or they may resist or get angry. To make this process easier, you can create a calm and comfortable environment for medication administration. Here are some tips:

Choose the Right Time: Administer medications when the patient is calm and cooperative, avoiding moments of . You can try to give medications before or after a pleasant activity, such as a meal, a walk, or a game. You can also use positive reinforcement, such as praise, hugs, or rewards, to motivate the patient to take their medications. Please understand that while healthcare professionals may state specific times for the medications, you need to find the right time for your loved one with dementia; this may differ from the perfect time according to the healthcare industry at large.

Eliminate Distractions: Find a quiet, peaceful space for medication administration. Minimize distractions by turning off the TV or radio. You can also play soothing music or use aromatherapy to create a relaxing atmosphere. You can also talk to the patient in a gentle and reassuring tone, explaining what you are doing and why it is important. You can also use simple and clear instructions, such as “open your mouth” or “swallow”.

Use Positive Reinforcement

People with dementia may not always understand the benefits of taking medications. They may feel scared, confused, or frustrated by the process. To help them feel more motivated and comfortable, you can use positive reinforcement. This means giving them something good or saying something nice after they take their medications. Here are some examples:

Offer Rewards: Give a small reward or treat after taking medications. This can be something they enjoy, such as a piece of candy, a sticker, or a favorite toy. This can help them associate taking medications with something pleasant. You can also let them choose their reward from a few options, to give them a sense of control.

Praise and Encouragement: Use positive words and a gentle tone to praise the patient for taking medications. Express pride in their actions and acknowledge their efforts. For example, you can say “You did a wonderful job taking your pills today. I'm so proud of you.” or “You are doing very well with your medications. You are taking loving care of yourself.” This can boost their self-esteem and confidence.

Incorporate Medications into Daily Routine

Sometimes, people with dementia may forget to take their medications. This can make their condition worse and affect their health. To help them remember, you can incorporate medications into their daily routine. This means making medication administration a part of their normal activities. Here are some ways to do that:

Routine Integration: Connect medication administration to daily routines like meals or brushing teeth. Consistency helps build a habit. For example, you can give medications before breakfast, after lunch, and before bedtime. You can also use the same place and method for giving medications, such as on the kitchen table or in a cup of water.

Visual Reminders: Use cues like sticky notes or alarms to remind the patient to take their medications. You can place sticky notes on the fridge, the bathroom mirror, or the bedroom door, with simple messages like “Time for your pills” or “Don't forget your medicine”. You can also set alarms on the phone, the clock, or the watch, with sounds or vibrations that alert the patient to take their medications. You can also use pictures or symbols to show what medications they need to take and when.

Engage in Simple Explanations

Sometimes, people with dementia may not understand why they need to take medications. They may have questions or doubts about their medications. To help them feel more comfortable and confident, you can engage in simple explanations. This means telling them what each medication does and why it is important. Here are some tips:

Use Simple Language: Explain each medication's purpose in straightforward terms. Avoid medical jargon. For example, instead of saying “This is an antihypertensive drug that lowers your blood pressure”, you can say “This is a pill that helps your heart work better”. You can also use analogies or examples to make it easier to understand. For example, you can say “This is like a vitamin that makes your bones stronger” or “This is like a band-aid that heals your wound”.

Repeat and Reinforce: Be patient and explain multiple times. Repetition helps patients retain information. You can also ask them to repeat what you said or to show you how they take their medications. This can help them remember and practice. You can also use reminders or cues to reinforce the information. For example, you can say “Remember, this is the pill that helps your heart work better” or “Don't forget, this is the band-aid that heals your wound”.

Respect Autonomy

People with dementia may feel like they have no control over their lives. They may feel frustrated, angry, or scared by the changes they are going through. They may also feel like they are losing their independence and dignity. To help them feel more respected and valued, you can respect their autonomy. This means letting them make some decisions about their medications. Here are some ways to do that:

Give Choices: Allow the patient to choose the order of medication intake, giving them a sense of control. For example, you can ask them “Which pill do you want to take first?” or “Do you want to take this one with water or juice?”. You can also let them hold the pill or the cup, if they are able to. This can help them feel more involved and responsible.

Empower Decision-Making: Even if they refuse medication, discuss options and consequences while respecting their autonomy. For example, you can say “I understand that you don't want to take this pill, but it can help you feel better. What do you think will happen if you don't take it?” or “You have the right to say no, but I'm worried about you. Can we talk about why you don't want to take it?”. You can also offer alternatives or compromises, such as “If you take this pill now, we can watch your favorite show later” or “How about we split this pill in half and take it twice?”. This can help them feel more heard and understood.

Involve the Healthcare Team

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your loved one may still refuse to take their medications. This can be very frustrating and worrying for you. You may feel like you are running out of options. But you are not alone. You can involve the healthcare team in your medication management. They can help you find solutions and support you. Here are some ways to do that:

Seek Professional Advice: If medication refusal persists, consult the healthcare provider. They may adjust medications or suggest alternative approaches. For example, they may change the dose, the timing, or the form of the medication. They may also prescribe a different medication that has fewer side effects or interactions. They may also recommend other treatments that can help with the symptoms of dementia, such as counseling, therapy, or support groups.

Consider Behavioral Interventions: Healthcare providers can recommend strategies to address medication refusal. These are ways to change the behavior of the patient using positive reinforcement, communication, and problem-solving. For example, they may suggest using rewards, praise, or encouragement to motivate the patient to take their medications. They may also teach you how to use simple language, clear instructions, and gentle reminders to explain the medications. They may also help you identify and resolve the reasons behind the medication refusal, such as fear, pain, or confusion.

Conclusion: A Patient-Centered Approach

Caring for a dementia patient who resists medications demands patience, understanding, and creativity. By simplifying medication management, creating a comfortable environment, using positive reinforcement, incorporating medications into routines, providing simple explanations, respecting autonomy, and seeking professional guidance, caregivers can ensure their loved ones receive necessary medications for their well-being.

Resources

11 Ways to get someone with dementia to take medication

Caregiver Training: Refusal to Take Medication | UCLA Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Program (video)

How to get someone with dementia to take medication (video)

My Loved One with Dementia

Understanding Dementia (Alzheimer's & Vascular & Frontotemporal & Lewy Body Dementia) (Video)

How Do I Know Which Dementia I'm Looking At? (Video)

Dementia Training material (Free)

Promoting Meaningful Relationships with Dementia Patients through Validation Therapy

Unlocking the Power of Validation Therapy in Compassionate End-of-Life Care

Validation Therapy: A Valuable Tool for Families and Healthcare Teams

Best Practices for Approaching Combative Dementia Patients

The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias

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How Do I Know You? Dementia at the End of Life

The Dementia Caregiver: A Guide to Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurocognitive Disorders (Guides to Caregiving)

Sundown Dementia, Vascular Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia Explained

The Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Practical Advice for Caring for Yourself and Your Loved One (Caregiver's Guides)

Ahead of Dementia: A Real-World, Upfront, Straightforward, Step-by-Step Guide for Family Caregivers

The Dementia Caregiver's Survival Guide: An 11-Step Plan to Understand the Disease and How To Cope with Financial Challenges, Patient Aggression, and Depression Without Guilt, Overwhelm, or Burnout

Dementia Care Companion: The Complete Handbook of Practical Care from Early to Late Stage

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The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease and Other Dementias

Dementia Home Care: How to Prepare Before, During, and After

The Dementia Caregiver's Survival Guide: An 11-Step Plan to Understand the Disease and How To Cope with Financial Challenges, Patient Aggression, and Depression Without Guilt, Overwhelm, or Burnout

Dementia Caregiving: A Self Help Book for Dementia Caregivers Offering Practical Coping Strategies and Support to Overcome Burnout, Increase Awareness, and Build Mental & Emotional Resilience

Navigating the Dementia Journey: A Compassionate Guide to Understanding, Supporting, and Living With Dementia

Ahead of Dementia: A Real-World, Upfront, Straightforward, Step-by-Step Guide for Family Caregivers

Four Common Mistakes by Caregivers of loved ones with Dementia and what do differently (video)

Eldercare Locator: a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

My Aging Parent Needs Help!: 7 Step Guide to Caregiving with No Regrets, More Compassion, and Going from Overwhelmed to Organized [Includes Tips for Caregiver Burnout]

Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver's Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm

The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself

Dear Caregiver, It's Your Life Too: 71 Self-Care Tips To Manage Stress, Avoid Burnout And Find Joy Again While Caring For A Loved One

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

The Art of Dying

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

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