It is common for our loved ones living with dementia to refuse to take their medications. When this happens we need to look at the situation in a couple of different ways.
First, are we infringing on the rights of these people? Even with dementia, they still have the same rights as everybody else. But remember; one of the symptoms of dementia is poor decision-making. They may have advanced far enough into the disease that they no longer are rational. Refusing certain medications can be harmful or even fatal.
For example, Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are common in the latter stages of dementia related diseases. Administering prescribed antibiotics is essential as this infection only causes increased confusion. As caregivers, if they’re refusing to take these medications, what choices do we truly have?
Let’s look at some creative ways of successfully administering these important drugs. At the same time we possibly might convince them this is the right thing to do.
Some meds don’t have to be in pill form. Always ask the pharmacist if there is a liquid or gel form. This might be easier to persuade them to ingest. It also is easier to hide it in their food. Are we going against their wishes by doing this? Yes! Are we doing what’s best for their health? My answer is a resounding “yes” to that, too. If you are their durable power of attorney or health surrogate, you are doing the job you were asked to perform by making the best possible decisions on their behalf.
Stop, take a deep breath and take a look at the environment they’re in when they‘re refusing. Are there other people in the room? Is it a calm and peaceful setting? These simple things can make a huge difference.
I found that keeping a strict routine helped me immensely when it came to caring for my dad who had Alzheimer’s disease. Try to have them take their pills at the same time every day. I even had to use the same little blue bowl for his pills every morning and evening. If I tried just handing him his pills he would loudly accuse me of trying to poison him. I can unmistakably remember him shouting at me, “These aren’t the pills I took yesterday!” — when they were from the same prescription he had been taking for months.
Also, remember that not only the setting should be calm, you need to remain that way, too. If you get frustrated with or angry at them, they’re going to feed off of that and you’ll never get them to take their medication. Sometimes you need to take in that deep breath of air and exhale. Let that anxiety that’s building inside you escape and try again.
Another tactic to consider is if you’re also taking medication; take yours at the same time. Use that, “Hey, I have to take mine, too,” approach. This is the buddy system.
Different times of the day will work better than others. If your loved one has sundowners, maybe late afternoon or evening is not the time to attempt this. Talk to their doctor and see if the schedule of the medication can be altered a little.
There’s always going to be trial and error when caring for someone with dementia. We just need to learn what works best for each person.
For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.