Dementia and Prescription Drugs

Common prescription drugs prescribed to older adults, especially those diagnosed with dementia or other forms of memory loss like Alzheimer’s Disease, actually may increase the degree of memory loss or confusion. Many older adults use their primary care physician throughout their lifetime not realizing that an aging body and mind benefits from seeing a geriatrician, a physician who specializes in medical care for adults over the age of fifty.

Common medications for incontinence, like Oxybutynin, medications for anxiety, like Doxepin, and a common over the counter medication, Benadryl, have the potential to increase mental confusion and make it appear as if an individual is suffering from increased memory loss. One would believe that physicians treating individuals diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s would be aware of the contraindications of these medications, however many are not and patients suffer the consequences.

Complicating the situation are individuals who continue, or who attempt to continue, to manage their medications in spite of being diagnosed with memory loss. Many of my clients swear that they take their medications daily but when medication reminder boxes are reviewed, medications are still sitting in many of the slots.

Automated medication machines are also an option however some of these also require a degree of participation by the individual. For example there are “saucer type” boxes supported by batteries that run by an internal clock that can be set to go off at certain times of day. One challenge is that the individual must pick up the box and turn it over to dispense medications into their hand or onto a plate. This “turning over” allows the machine to know that it is time to advance to the next dosage time.

As beneficial as these automated medication machines can be, they are certainly not tamper proof. I have had clients who removed the batteries, thus eliminating the ability of the machine to “tell time” and to advance as necessary to the next prescription dosage and time. Other clients have figured out how to open the saucer in spite of the key locking mechanism. For individuals who are determined to tamper with the boxes, other methods for medication reminding, like establishing visits from in home caregivers (who legally only can remind the person to take medications) or moving to an assisted living community where staff may provide medications are options.

Older adults who are unable to manage their medications by way of refilling prescriptions and remembering to take medications are most commonly seen in hospital emergency rooms either because they took too many, did not take, or combined medications unintentionally. Medication management for older adults is an important component of supporting independence and good health.

We have assembled more detailed information about Memory Loss and Impairment for Family and Professional Caregivers.

For Family Caregivers please visit the Memory Loss and Impairment Page.

For Professional Caregivers please visit the Memory Loss and Impairment Page.

About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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