Helping an Alzheimer’s Family Member Take Medication

A common challenge family caregivers face is getting a loved one living with Alzheimer’s to take their medication and take it on schedule. My family experienced this firsthand with our mom. At times, she would get irritated that we reminded her to take it; other times she would claim she didn’t need to take medication because her memory was fine. Often, she would swear she already took her pills when we knew she hadn’t. For my mom, the reminders from our family to take the medication were not as well-received as a similar direction from her doctor.

In these instances, it’s important to remember that the person with Alzheimer’s is going through changes in their brain, and those changes are impacting their behavior and ability to communicate. What may seem like an unwillingness to follow the schedule could be an attempt on their part to communicate a need or concern.

Here are a few tips on dealing with these related challenges:

  1. Empathize with their concern. As a first step, it can help to acknowledge their unwillingness to take the medication. Start by saying something like, “I’m sorry this is difficult and that you don’t want to take your medication.” When you demonstrate an understanding of how they are feeling, it can help to ease their anxiety.
  2. Be a detective. Resisting medication can be a response to a number of different factors – some which you can control and some you can’t. Let’s briefly look at a few possibilities.
    • Is the surrounding environment calm when it’s time for medication? A loud television, screaming grandkids, or even your tone of voice can cause your loved one to feel rushed, confused, or distracted.
    • Do you have a routine? Try creating a soothing environment with soft music playing in the background and providing one-step-at-a-time instructions.
    • What about the taste? The size of the pill? The time of day the medication needs to be taken? You won’t be able to change these factors directly, but you can engage your loved one’s physician in a discussion about the challenges with medications and advocate for changes for your loved one. Remember, you know them best!
  3. Don’t force your agenda. Yes, it is their medication, but let’s face it – you’re the one enforcing the schedule. The reality is, though, that sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Learning to pause, take a step back, and revisit taking the medication in 20 minutes can be a reliable method of sticking to the medication schedule.

It’s natural, as a caregiver, to want to get through the entire schedule of needs you have set out for the person who you are caring for. It makes us feel good. With Alzheimer’s, though, success one day can be followed by a day that is completely off schedule. These tips can help on those days when things aren’t going as planned. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, we are here to talk about your loved one, the challenges you’re facing, and how we can help. Contact us anytime.