How to Get Mom to Take Her Medicine

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Your aging parent resisting taking pills?

Stubborn refusal to take necessary medicine can be baffling to the caregiver family members. old lady hand on mouthIf refusing to take medicine is a new behavior for your aging loved one, it can be a sign that a medical condition is underway or is worsening. For example, with dementia, changes in thinking, such as being suspicious or paranoid are common. If your aging parent won’t take the medicine the doctor wants her to have, the first step is to get your parent into the doctor’s office for a checkup. If you ask about this problem, the doctor may choose to test your parent for dementia. If the problem is not dementia, it may be treatable. You can learn about the diagnosis of the problem if you ask. For some dementia, treatment can be helpful. Other conditions can be helped if brought to the doctor’s attention, and not dismissed as “getting old”. Speak up for your loved one. Resistance to taking medicines can be dangerous, and is certainly a worry for the family. It is not a normal part of “getting old”! For caregivers, learn as much as you can about your parent’s diagnosis. It will help you understand how to manage with Mom if you do your research (try and join support groups.

Another problem that can cause refusal to take medicines is depression, which we discussed in our last newsletter. Sometimes, a depressed aging person feels like giving up, and medication seems, to them, to be useless. There are currently over a dozen kinds of medications for treating depression. No one knows exactly why one works and the other doesn’t, or what combination of them works. It’s part luck and part science. If you know your parent is depressed, be an advocate if the first medication or first choice of dosage prescribed isn’t working. Ask for a higher dose, and different drug, or a better combination of medications.

If the problem is a mechanical one, such as difficulty swallowing pills or opening bottles, you can help. Ask the pharmacy for easy-open bottle caps. Most are made to be tamper-proof, but that creates a problem for those who may have arthritis in their hands, or loss of grip strength. Find out from the pharmacy if the medication comes in liquid form. If not, pills can be crushed with a mortar and pestle, or between two spoons. Mixing the crushed pills into applesauce, cottage cheese (sweetened) or jam can make it easier to swallow the pills. (Use artificially sweetened jam for diabetics.)

Ironically, taking medication can affect the resistance to take medication. This is because medication can affect behavior and thinking, or help with depression. If your aging elder is resisting, look at the problem as one that can be solved if you get involved, or get your caregivers involved with a solid plan in mind. If you have a care manager, he or she can be a tremendous help, offering skill in this troublesome area. With a team effort and your doctor’s cooperation, you may just beat this problem. Learn more about care managers in How to Find and Use a Care Manager, part of the series, The Boomer’s Guide to Aging Parents, available at

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