Our 81 year old mother was recently diagnosed with dementia. How should she be convinced that she should not be administering her own medication?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Our 81 year old mother was recently diagnosed with dementia.  How should she be convinced that she should not be administering her own medication?

Expert Answer

Beth Spencer is a social worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience with families who have a member with dementia. She is coauthor of Understanding Difficult Behaviors and Moving a Relative with Memory Loss: A Family Caregiver's Guide. Previously, she directed Silver Club, early-stage and adult day programs serving individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses.

This is just the first of many issues like this: driving, finances, living alone, etc. All will require family intervention at some point. Now is a good time to think about how to approach these issues. In general, I recommend that you think about it as a partnership. Tell your mother that you want to help her remain as independent as possible if that is what she wishes. So you will work together to find solutions that you can both live with as issues come up. Always remind yourself how you would feel in this situation and try to help her maintain as much dignity as possible. 

Don't automatically assume that a diagnosis means she can't do things. The first question is whether she is having trouble administering her own medication. Many people with early dementia can still manage this for awhile. If she says she can do it, ask her to show you how she sets the medication tray up. If she can do this correctly now, you may just need to monitor for awhile. The other piece is whether she remembers to take her medications each day. Help her come up with a routine that builds this in; it might be a note on the calendar or a daily phone call from you. There are also a growing number of products made for people with memory loss: pill bottles with alarm clocks built in, telephone reminder systems, and others that may be useful. Call the Alzheimer's Association (1.800.272.3900) and ask for help finding out about these.