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What to Do When Seniors Stop Taking Medications

Over half of seniors do not take their medications. Studies show that more than 10% of hospitalizations among seniors are due to “prescription non-adherence,” that is, seniors not taking their medications or not following the prescription guidelines. What can doctors and caregivers do when seniors stop taking their medications? First, let’s explore the reasons for this problem.

Reasons Seniors Might Stop Taking Medications

There are some common reasons the senior population needs to be more mindful in taking their prescriptions. On average, seniors take about seven medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. When seniors stop taking their medication, it is mainly because of memory and confusion. However, there are additional issues that need to be addressed as well.

Memory Problems

When the doctor prescribes medication, the senior hears the reason for the drug in the office. The doctor’s office generally hands over written instructions about the prescriptions, but researchers have found that only one in four remembered that the nurse gave written information to them. One in ten did not recall receiving the information. When seniors stop taking their medication, memory could be the culprit.

In addition, seniors have difficulty remembering when they took their medication or if they took it. Therefore, when seniors stop taking their medication, it could be because their memory does not allow them to recall if they took it, and they fear overdose. Then the question of dosage occurs, and it is very confusing to remember when taking several medications. However, there are some ways to counteract the loss of memory.

Possible actions to take to help seniors remember their medications:

  • Pill organizers stored in the open in the kitchen or bathroom
  • Event reminders – set a cooking timer or cell phone alarm
  • Medication management devices or pill dispensers
  • Medication checklists
  • Check with the doctor to see if medications can be combined

Lack of Education about the Need for Medication

Almost half of the seniors do not understand why they take prescribed medications. As a result, when seniors stop taking their medications, they are often unaware of why they don’t feel good. There may need to be more education provided by the doctor, nurse, or caregiver to go over the symptoms of their illness and what the medication is. The caregiver may need to communicate this information more than once, so the senior remembers.

Too Many Medications

In combination with memory and lack of education, seniors average five to seven prescriptions to manage. When seniors stop taking their medications, it is often out of confusion as to when to take them. In addition, they may not like taking too many pills at once because of how it makes them feel. Writing out a checklist of times or color coding a pill box may help, so the times can be staggered by taking only one pill at a time.

Physical or Mental Incapacity

Seniors face physical limitations and visual and hearing impairments, and some have mild cognitive decline. When seniors stop taking their medications without caregiver support, it could be because they cannot get to the drug. This is a vicious cycle; without the prescription, they may experience more physical pain. Communication from a family member, caregiver, or friend must make it clear to keep all medications within reach.


Seniors live on a fixed income most of the time. Many prescriptions are costly. If a senior does not have anyone to advocate for them in these cases, they may not get their medicine. Some may wonder when seniors stop taking their medications, but the senior never filled the prescription because of the cost. Seniors might cut pills in half to make them last longer without realizing the adverse effect.

Fear and Mistrust

When seniors stop taking their medications, it could be because they fear the side effects included in the prescription packaging. Once learning of the side effects, they may connect to the internet and research more about the drug, causing increased fear. Hence, this refusal of help may stem from fear. In addition, some seniors mistrust their healthcare providers. There is a common belief that physicians receive enticements to prescribe medications.

What Can a Caregiver Do To Help?

It’s time to get involved directly with the doctor. When seniors stop taking medications, it can be a big problem. Write down the medications your senior is taking from every prescribing doctor. Include over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements. Record the frequency of dosage for each prescription.

Make a comprehensive list your senior can take to each doctor when they present their insurance card to the registration staff. When this happens, the doctor can have a clear vision of what medications their patient is taking from all doctors. Then, when seniors stop taking their medications, visit the doctor with the senior and explain the issue. Finally, it is time to identify why and resolve any problems.

To eliminate difficulty reading prescription labels, ensure the senior has a magnifying glass next to the prescription bottle. Ask about possible adverse drug interactions that could cause harmful side effects. This could be a factor when seniors stop taking their medications because they don’t feel good. Inquire about side effects and what to do if the senior is experiencing adverse side effects.

Find Help When Seniors Stop Taking Their Medications in Tennessee

If you are a caregiver of a loved one who has stopped taking their medications, we can help. Lux Home Care has options for assisted living and caregiving for your senior and can assist in making sure there is medication compliance. When seniors stop taking their medications, we understand their difficulties. Contact us to discuss the available options for your loved one.

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