Your guide to care and support

Medicines: tips for carers

Managing medicines for someone you look after can be a challenge, particularly if they are taking several different types.

Medicines can legally be administered by anyone, as long as it has been prescribed by an appropriate practitioner.

Although the person you care for may appreciate your support with their medicines, bear in mind that they have a right to confidentiality.

It's up to them to decide how much of their health and medicines information is available to you as their carer, and how much you should be involved in their care.

Taking pills correctly

Pills or tablets are the most common form of medicine. If the person you care for has a complicated medication regime with different pills taken at different times of the day, you can ask your pharmacist to provide them in dosette boxes. These are plastic boxes with small compartments that show clearly which pills need to be taken at what time of day.

Always read the instructions on the packaging or dosette box before giving medicines to anyone. They should always be given either according to the instructions or as advised by whoever prescribed them.

Instructions for when and how to give medication should be clear. If you are experiencing any problems, ask a doctor, nurse or pharmacist to explain.

It's important to give medicines at the recommended time of day. Not doing this can make them less effective. You also need to know whether or not the medicines should be taken with food or in between meals. 

Ask for a medicines use review

If the person you are caring for is taking more than one medicine and has a long-term condition, such as arthritis or diabetes, they should be able to get a free medicines use review with their pharmacist.

This is a chance to talk to the pharmacist in confidence about any problems they are having with their medicines. Attending the medicines use review with the person you look after will help you work together to make sure they take the correct medicines in the appropriate doses and at the right times.

Keeping medicines organised

Make sure medicines are all kept in one place in the home, preferably in a cupboard or drawer that can be locked. This is particularly important if children live in or visit the house.

You'll also need to ensure repeat prescriptions are dispensed in time so the person you're looking after doesn't run out of medication.

If you find you are spending a lot of time fetching prescriptions from the GP and picking up medicines from the pharmacy, ask the GP surgery if they can send prescriptions directly to the pharmacy. Some pharmacists also offer home delivery services for people who find it difficult to get out of the house.

Medicines safety for carers

There are a number of things you and the person you're looking after can do to make taking medicines safer:

  • Be aware over-the-counter medication shouldn't be taken with prescribed medicines unless a doctor or pharmacist has confirmed it's safe to do so.
  • Be aware that if a dose of the medicine is missed, it may not be safe to take a larger amount later on.
  • Return any surplus medicines to the pharmacist for safe disposal.

If the person you care for forgets to take their medicines

It's important to support the person you care for to be as independent as possible with their medicines. But if they keep forgetting to take them, there are several ways you can help.

You could consider telephoning them at the times they need to take their medication. Or, if they have care workers, you can arrange for them to visit at the time of day when medication needs to be taken.

Automatic pill dispensers are also available. When the medicine needs to be taken, the dispenser beeps and a small opening allows access to the correct pills at the right time.

If the person you look after refuses to take their medicines

If the person you care for is unwilling to take their medicines for some reason – for example, because they feel they are not working – have a word with their GP or pharmacist. They may be able to suggest a form of the medicine that is more acceptable. Some painkillers, for example, can be prescribed as a long-acting patch that is stuck on the skin rather than as tablets.

Never give medication to someone without their consent or try to force them to take it. People have the right to refuse medication. It's not safe to crush tablets, or open capsules and mix them with food or drink.

Help with swallowing difficulties

Some people need help with swallowing pills. If you're worried the person you care for could choke or they are refusing to take their medication, ask your GP or pharmacist if it can be supplied in a soluble or liquid form. Or they can advise you on how to help the person you care for take their pills.

See more about swallowing difficulties (dysphagia).

Find out how your pharmacist can help with managing medicines.

Page last reviewed: 15/01/2015
Next review due: 31/10/2017