Dear Family Advisor

I think my grandmother is overdoing her meds.

Last updated: Dec 22, 2010

My dad died in a car accident a couple of years ago, and my grandmother has taken it really hard. She sleeps all the time, and I'm concerned she's over-medicating herself. I'm in college, I go by a couple of times a day (to and from school) and find her passed out in her recliner. Sometimes I can hardly wake her. I've started trying to keep track of her pills, and I think she's taking more than she needs. I'm really concerned and don't want anything to happen to her. I really don't have anyone else to turn to (my parents were divorced) and my "Nana" means the world to me. I love her dearly -- is it disrespectful for me to confront her?

It's wonderful that you're so close to your Nana, and it sounds like she really needs you in her life. But don't try to do it all alone. Find others to help you.

I suspect your grandmother is dealing with depression, which is very common among older adults. It's not disrespectful to confront her about her well being, but how about trying an indirect tack, first?

I know you're busy with your own life, but it won't take long for you to go online or make a few calls to find local resources to help your grandmother. While most older adults want to continue to live in their own homes, they tend to isolate themselves (especially after they stop driving). Your Nana needs friends (old and new), neighbors, church members, volunteer caregivers, and perhaps even a home health aide to not only meet her care needs but also add variety and support to her world. You may already know some of these parties you can reach out to.

Contact your local agency on aging, which every county and state has, or the community senior center, to find out about resources in your town. Meals on Wheels, for example, may be able to bring your grandmother a few meals a week. Even if she still cooks some, it's more about getting more people into her life and helping her feel she's not alone. Many activities at senior centers are free or low cost and often provide transportation.

Be ready for a bit of resistance. Maybe start with something you could attend with her, so she doesn't feel like the lone ranger. Nudge her to keep participating until she makes friends. It may take a few visits, so find incentives to keep her going; maybe offer to go for ice cream or drive her on errands after she's participated in a senior-center activity.

Online, you can also find forums full of caring folks who can offer other great ideas and give you support.

Regarding her medications, is there a way you can put her pills away and only leave out what she needs for the day? Can you arrange your schedule to make that possible? While you're there, can you open the curtains, turn on the television, eat a meal together, walk to the mailbox, and get her going for the day? I know that's a lot on you, but organizing her life can actually help organize yours. As you find more local resources, you can transfer some of these caregiving responsibilities to others, allowing you to be less caregiver and more of a care advocate.

If after all this you still have a deep-gut concern about your grandmother's health or welfare, don't ignore that feeling. Speak to her directly about your concerns at that point. Express your concerns with understanding: "This can happen to anybody." Get her physician involved then, too. Perhaps he or she can change her medications, address her feelings of despondency, and offer other suggestions for helping her cope with the changes that have come her way.

You can't solve all her physical and emotional problems, but you can love her, hang out, talk, and begin to see how much she adds to your life as well. Bring your friends by, rent a movie or play cards; don't assume that others have a "Nana."

Don't even try to do all this alone. Your grandmother needs you, but she also needs others. And so do you. Reach out and surround both of you with people who genuinely care. Continue to date, finish school, and build a life your Nana will be proud of -- one that she gets to be a part of and that you get to live!