Helping your loved one with medicines

Medical Director at Bupa UK
04 August 2016
Older man playing chess

Headache pills, blood pressure pills, round ones, blue ones and tablets that look big enough for a horse. Confused? Many people are.

The older we get, the more tablets we’re likely to be taking to help us manage long-term health problems. In fact, around one in 20 patients take 10 or more different medicines a day. That’s a lot to keep track of. If you’re helping someone with their medicines, these simple tips can help you to be safe and in control.

Know what the medicines are for

Getting to grips with what each medicine is, and what it’s used for, is a good first step. Every medicine should come with a Patient Information Leaflet (PIL). This contains details of what the medicine is used for, how it should be taken and stored and what the side-effects could be. If you haven’t got the PIL for a medicine, you can ask the pharmacist for one, or you can see most of them online at

Take medicines at the right time, in the right way

Be clear about what needs to be taken and when. If you’re dealing with a number of different medicines, it can be helpful to split them into groups and give them at easy to remember times. For example, at breakfast or before bed.

There are lots of aids that can help. A dosette box has small pill compartments for different times and days of the week. You pre-load the boxes at the start of the week. Blister packs are similar, but the pharmacist can make these up for you. You can also use a reminder chart or put an alarm on your phone. Some people use text reminders and there are smartphone apps that can help too.

If swallowing tablets is difficult, ask the GP if there is a different way your loved one can take the medicine. Some medicines come as liquids or stick-on skin patches, for example.  

Get to know your pharmacist

Pharmacists are a great source of information about medicines and, with your loved one’s permission, they can talk to you about their medicines. The New Medicine Service, for example, helps people who have been prescribed a new medicine for a long-term health problem. Talk to your pharmacist about taking part when you go to collect the prescription. The Medicines Use Review service is a yearly review with the pharmacist of all medicines a person is taking. You can go along to this with the person you’re caring for.

Many prescriptions are now sent electronically from the GP to the pharmacist, including repeat prescriptions. It’s worthwhile asking the pharmacist to regularly check that if anything has changed, the system has updated the prescription.

Some medicines have the potential to interact with other medicines, herbs and foods, and these can sometimes cause serious health problems. For example, some blood pressure tablets are affected by grapefruit juice. Your pharmacist can check for these interactions and work with the GP to minimise them. They also advise about any medicines you buy from the chemist, and whether these are safe to take with prescription medicines.

Look out for side-effects

All medicines can cause side-effects and it’s one of the reasons why some people stop taking them. Some side-effects can be temporary or get better over time, but some can be serious. If your loved one has stopped taking a medicine, or you see symptoms of a side-effect, contact the GP or speak to the pharmacist. Your loved one may be able to try a different medicine, or have a smaller amount.

Know what to do when things go wrong

Sometimes medicines get missed or forgotten, or people take more than they should. For some medicines this can be serious. So, if this happens, check the PIL to find out what you need to do. If you don’t have a PIL, call your local pharmacy or the GP for advice.

Steve Iley
Medical Director at Bupa UK

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