How To Get A Person Living With Dementia To Take Their Medication

Q: Dear Regina, How do I get mummy to take her medication? She doesn’t do anything we ask her to. She knows she can’t do it on her own and she won’t listen to us. She’s telling us she is not a child. This is so frustrating!

A: Wow! I hear this question frequently and when I observe the carer giving the medication to the person with dementia I just want to cringe! I often hear the carer’s frustration while they are talking to the person with dementia. Below, I am sharing with you an article I read dealing with this same issue written by Bob DeMarco.

I agree with the article when it stated “getting a person living with dementia to take their medication is often difficult and is a common problem that is faced by Alzheimer’s caregivers.”

The writer talked about the experience with their own mother who lived with Alzheimer’s disease.

With many trials and error, the writer finally learned an effective way to deal with this problem.

Read his story:

Have you ever tried to explain to someone living with Alzheimer’s disease why they should take their medication? Do you end up going into some kind of long-winded explanation about why they should take the pills? As you do this, are you trying to reason with them?

After trying to reason with them, do you finally become exasperated? Maybe a bit irritable? Sometimes at wits end? Do you find that the harder you try to reason with a person living with Alzheimer’s disease, the more resistant they become to what you are trying to accomplish?

Did you ever wonder why they become more resistant?

For example, did it ever dawn on you that by supplying too much information, they become confused?

Information overload is not a good thing for someone who is deeply forgetful.

Too much information tends to confuse people living with dementia. Once confused, they really don’t understand what you are trying to do. Ask yourself: can you operate effectively when you are confused?

How do you sound when you are trying to give someone living with Alzheimer’s their medication? Does the sound of your voice change as you become irritable or exasperated? Do you start to lecture? Do your words sound harsh in any way?

Let’s reverse the paradigm.

How do you react when someone speaks to you in a harsh tone of voice? Are you more, or less, likely to do what they want? How do you react when someone tries to force you to do something you don’t want to do?

It is important to go outside of yourself and to start thinking about what the person living with Alzheimer’s might be thinking and feeling.

It is important to look at their face and try to determine how they are feeling. It is important for you to understand that their brain no longer functions like ours and that a person living with dementia does not process information the same way we do.

As a result, they don’t think and absorb information the same way that you and I do. They can get easily lost when you start piling the information on with one explanation after another.

When it is time for my mother to take her medication, my goal is to get her to take the medication without saying a single word to her.

This is important — I handed her one pill at a time.

Without saying a word, I would hand her the glass of water. If she asked what it was for, I ignored her words. I just held the pill out in the palm of my hand.

If you are having a problem getting your loved one to take the medication, it is likely that they will say something negative to you. Ignore those words. Don’t say anything. Just hold the pill out in front of them.

It was not unusual for my mother to tell me I was trying to do something bad to her. Or that she didn’t need any medication. In fact, she usually told me how healthy she was.

I would just stand there and not say a word. Even though she might be saying something very negative about the situation, or the medication, I waited for her to take the pill out of my hand. She would do it every time.

Once my mother took the pills, it was now time to add a healthy dose of positive reinforcement. Then I give her something she really likes. Always use the hook, line and sinker when communicating.

My mother loved coffee. So after she took the medication, I give her the coffee. I always say something positive. Here is a nice fresh, hot cup of coffee. It is really a nice sunny day outside today. Lay it on thick. Try it.

I want to make this clear.

I used the combination of non-verbal communication and positive reinforcement to set up a pattern. The positive reinforcement is essential to excellent caregiving.

Let me warn you. The solution I am suggesting might not work immediately. It takes time and focus to establish an effective pattern and change behaviour.

It really is up to you.

You can continue to complain about the person living Alzheimer’s over and over and over. Or you can change the rules of the game. You start this change by changing the way you deal with the problem.

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