Caregiver Blog: Telltale Signs that Patients Are Skipping their Medications

Article Categories: Caregiver Corner & Caregiver Tips and Tricks

At present, there is a health problem so big, yet that remains unnoticed to many—nonadherence to prescribed medications. This is how bad the situation is: according to a review by the Annals of Internal Medicine, 20-30% of prescription medications are never filled and about 50% of medications are not taken as prescribed. What’s worse, this problem is responsible for approximately 125,000 deaths and 10% of all hospitalizations.

There are many reasons why patients do not take their medications as recommended. Some skip their meds on purpose, saying that the medications' side effects make them stop. Some experience difficulties such as swallowing problems. Other patients stop because they feel better and don’t think it’s necessary to continue. Some also think their medications are too costly, ineffective, or worse, making them sicker rather than better. Patients also miss doses due to confusion and simply forget.

Whatever their reasons, skipping medications can have serious and deadly consequences for patients. They are not receiving an important part of their treatment and, therefore, risk getting worse or suffering complications.

Caregivers are in a position to help, because they spend the most time with patients. Their careful observations can provide clues that a patient is not following their treatment as recommended.

Here are telltale signs that a patient has not been following their treatment plan:

1. The patient asks you to leave the room when it’s medication time.

Caregivers are not allowed to administer medications, they can only assist or remind a patient to follow their prescriptions. Patients can get away with skipping their meds by simply saying they took it when they didn’t.

2. Pill bottles don’t seem to empty.

You might notice a bottle that is supposed to be finished is still sitting on the medicine counter. You do not remember them refilling their medication and don’t notice any torn foil packs or empty bottles in the trash.

3. The patient’s symptoms come back or become worse.

One of the most significant signs that a patient has stopped taking medications is that their previous complaints have come back or they report feeling sicker after a little improvement.

4. The patient is often forgetful.

Memory problems can cause confusion in a patient, who will likely not remember to take their prescribed medications. Patients with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, may be missing doses, which is also a sign they are advancing in the disease.

5. The patient says they feel better and don’t need pills any more.

Other patients may not hide it and will tell you that they stopped on purpose. Also, do not be surprised to find that they’ve been taking more “vitamins” or “supplements,” which they prefer over their prescriptions.

When you suspect a patient is not following their recommended treatment, you may directly ask the patient if that’s the case. Whether you believe they are telling the truth or not, you must discuss the matter with your supervisor or nurse so your patient can get the necessary help regarding the importance of sticking strictly to the treatment plan.

Medicines won’t work if a patient won’t take them. This is the hard truth. These consequences can be prevented if everyone, including the patient, tries their best to do their part.


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