Caring for a Senior with Dementia

Published: March 27, 2022
By Douglas Lasch, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2022
By Jaswitha Basu, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2022
Jordan Fortunato
By Jordan Fortunato, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2024

Dementia is a progressive disease where brain cell connections shrink over time, resulting in a variety of memory, thinking, and behavior changes. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. Caregivers play a crucial role in managing a patient’s symptoms and keeping them safe. Your pharmacist can be a helpful resource by providing information about safely taking medications that are prescribed for patients with dementia and over-the-counter medications.

What are the early signs of dementia?

The following are symptoms that may be early signs of dementia:

  • Withdrawal from social activities or lack of motivation to do daily activities
  • Difficulty with remembering newly learned information such as recent conversations or events
  • Difficulty with completing daily tasks such as creating a grocery list or using the coffee maker
  • Trouble with finding the right words to say or conversing with others
  • Placing items in odd locations and being unable to retrace steps to find them
  • Changes in mood or personality such as feeling anxious, depressed, suspicious or easily upset

Can I slow the progression of dementia?

Dementia cannot be prevented, as it has many risk factors such as age and genetics, but the following habits may slow the progression of dementia:

  • Healthy diet: reduce sugar intake, eat fruits and vegetables,
  • Weekly exercise: aim for 150 minutes per week of cardio and strength training
  • Get sufficient and quality sleep by establishing a regular sleep schedule
  • Socialize regularly with friends and family
  • Stimulate your brain by learning a new hobby such as arts and crafts or card games

How can pharmacists help?

Depending on a patient’s stage of dementia, there are many things a pharmacist can do to make taking medications safely and properly a little easier.

For early stages of dementia, pharmacists can recommend tools that help ensure medications are taken at the right dose and time.

  • Pill trays and blister packs separate medications based on the time of day that they should be taken.
  • Color-coding or labeling medication bottles can make it easier to identify which medications to take and when.
  • Making a medication checklist or writing reminders on a calendar can help if medications should be taken differently based on the day of the week or month.

If your loved one is in a later stage of dementia, they may have trouble swallowing. Your pharmacist may be able to recommend an alternative formulation for their medications such as liquids or suspensions.  Be sure to store medications in a safe place if your loved one does not have the ability to take their medications independently. Without the ability to track when they take their medications, there is a risk for multiple dosing, which could result in an overdose.

Another helpful tool for caregivers of patients at all stages of dementia is a phone app including Round Health and My Meds, which offers a variety of features to help manage medications. These apps may include reminders, administration instructions, disease information, and direct pharmacist access for questions or advice.

Talk to your local pharmacist to incorporate some or all of these techniques to create a personalized approach to ensure medication adherence for your loved one.

Summary

Although no cure currently exists for Alzheimer's disease or dementia, medications can improve symptoms and minimize risks for your loved one. Your pharmacists can provide you with tools to improve medication adherence to ensure that medications are taken on time.  You are not alone on this journey, and your pharmacist can answer questions and address your concerns.

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