When I arrived in San Francisco from Southern California to help my elderly parents (both with early Alzheimer's-not properly diagnosed until a year later), I found my father's medications all mixed up with my mother's in their weekly plastic pill containers. Since I had Durable Power of Attorney, their doctor's office was legally able to talk to me about my parents' health and all their many medications.
To avoid having a mix up happen again, with Sharpies I color-coded the pill bottle tops with red for Mom's and black for Dad's. I also mounted an erasable bulletin board on the wall above the meds so we could easily check off after their morning, afternoon and evening doses. And then, by consolidating their pharmacies so all medications only came from one place, we had a much better chance of any drug interactions being caught by a computer.
I thought I finally had the "Medication Project" working perfectly, until I happened to notice that numerous pills were disappearing faster than they should. I thought I was the one losing it as I kept saying, "I thought I just ordered those!" What I hadn't realized yet was that my father was hoarding the pills because he was of the mindset that if one pill worked well-maybe two or three might work better. And, he was giving my frail mother extra pills too!
I immediately called their doctor who said I better hide the pills otherwise an overdose of all those medications could be fatal. Well, I knew that was going to be impossible because my father got into absolutely everything in the middle of the night after sleeping all day ("sun-downer") and there was no way to turn him around or stop him.
Instead, I went to an office supply store and bought a large lockable cashbox, put a divider down the middle, and put all their medications in there and locked it up tight. I put one key on my key ring and hid another key behind the bathroom mirror, just in case I had an emergency and couldn't get there and had to have someone else go give my parents their pills. Oh yeah, my father was incensed that he no longer had control of their medications and the ranting and raving about it went on for a week-but luckily I didn't budge.
What I didn't realize was how close we'd come to a real catastrophe. I started hearing the most horrible stories about how often elderly people (with or without dementia) won't remember if they took their pills and accidentally take them again and overdose. It even happened to a dear friend of mine, who left new pills in the room of her sweet elderly mother, who didn't remember she'd taken them earlier and ended up in the hospital for a week and nearly died.
So what can you do if you have elderly loved ones who still live alone and you can't get there everyday to make sure their medications are being taken correctly? Be sure to check out this helpful product, the Automatic Medication Dispenser available from the Alzheimer's Store, along with numerous products you will find helpful: http://alzstore.com/