Medications are a part of life for the older adult population often served in home health. The handfuls of pills our patients have to take throughout the day are mind boggling and bewildering. It’s not unusual to see a medication list with 15+ medications on it. If you have trouble remembering to take your daily multivitamin, then you can certainly empathize with the challenge of remembering to take a plethora of pills as part of your daily routine.
Many times, besides the basic blood pressure medication, diuretic, and analgesic, an individual may be on a litany of anti-depressants, respiratory drugs, beta blockers, anti-convulsants, vasodilators, and even blood thinners. The reasons these medications are taken may be confusing to even the most “with-it” individuals, much less to an adult with dementia, short term memory issues, or basic cognitive decline. So you’re probably asking yourself, what in the world does this have to do with OT? Fair question!
An older adult’s life usually includes taking medication of some form. Since OT is all about promoting optimal function and independence for daily life, everything related to the process of taking a medication is fair game to an OT. BRING ON THE ACTIVITY ANALYSIS! Looking at the necessary physical, mental, and environmental components to taking a medication reveals how an OT may intervene to improve a person’s ability in this area.
We’ll begin with the physical side…
Does this individual have any fine motor deficits?
Anything that might preclude opening a pill bottle or daily pill box?
If they do, an OT’s interventions may include a litany of tasks simulating the root skills necessary for opening containers, because it doesn’t matter if you remember what to take and when if you can’t even access your medication.
Another common intervention for medication compliance looks at the mental aspects of medications; which means an OT may introduce the idea of a med schedule/calendar and may even combine it with the regular ADL tasks we’re trying to work in. Sometimes “Habit Stacking” or combining one iron-clad routine item with another is a good way to build-in the must haves for independence. Whatever the intervention, it must allow a client to engage mentally and take back ownership over their medical future and wellbeing. Our role is simply to provide the gentlest of pushes and guide our fellow man or woman in the same way training wheels assist with learning to ride the bike, we’re not here forever, we’re here till you get the hang of it; but you’re doing the pedaling.