Balancing Medication Management and Dementia:

Tips to Help Those Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss

Older adults often take multiple medications, vitamins, and supplements, and while this can be beneficial in many ways, it also increases the risk of medication mix-ups. In rare but serious cases, these simple mistakes can become dangerous and even fatal.

Managing medications for someone who has dementia is even more complicated. Most people with dementia will assure you that they are compliant with medication, because they truly believe they are, or because they are fearful of losing their independence. Therefore, using the right approach is important in creating a positive conversation.

senior doubtful of medication

Victoria Tyryshkin, Dementia Specialist for Seniors At Home Center for Dementia Care, offers suggestions on the best way to approach medication management with a loved one.

Support Their Independence

Victoria says, “You can really bolster a loved one’s independence by putting small changes in place.”

These small changes might include:

  • Help your loved one mark the medication bottles with a simpler explanation of the medication’s purpose and how/when to take them. For example, write, “For diabetes, take 30 minutes before a meal in the morning” or use colored markers to mark the bottle caps with different colors for morning and evening.
  • Create written reminders and put them in frequently used places/surfaces like the refrigerator door, bedroom, or bathroom.
  • Set alarm clock reminders on smartphones, watches, tablets, and computers, or create a phone call reminder system using family members, friends, or caregivers.
  • Introduce an easy-to-use system like medication organizers. There are many designs—choose one with an appropriate amount of compartments and that correlates with the time of day the medications are to be taken.

Overcome Resistance

People with dementia are often resistant to taking medications regardless of how they are organized. Understanding the reasons for this and finding ways to support these emotions are key factors.

In the meantime, Victoria recommends focusing on how you approach the subject of medication with your loved one:

  • Try to be soft and kind when offering medication to your loved one. Do not ask them if they want to take the medication; rather, offer it to them with a glass of water and say, “Here you go. Please take that for your blood pressure and then we will watch a movie together,” or make another attractive offer following the action.
  • If you also take medications, consider taking them at the same time, so it feels more natural for them to be taking medications together.

Victoria also notes that it is important to think ahead and plan for a natural disaster or a medical emergency. Make sure that you have at least a 1-week supply of medications set aside and keep it up to date. Remember that some medications require refrigeration and plan accordingly. Keep an updated list of medications and place them in a prominent location near the refrigerator.

If you need additional support with medication management or any aspect of caring for a loved one with dementia, Seniors At Home’s Center for Dementia Care experts are here to help! Reach out to Seniors At Home—415-449-3700 or contact us online.

Seniors At Home is a division of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, a trusted nonprofit institution that has been providing care since 1850. Our services are funded by fees and by donations for those who cannot afford the full cost of care for these critical services.

If you would like to make a donation, please contact Barbara Farber at or 415-449-3858, or give online.