Taking medications with dementia

Read about taking medications safely, practical tips to help you to remember, and what to do if you miss a dose.

Medicines to help memory and thinking
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Medication should be taken according to the instructions on the label and in the leaflet. The person may need help with this, particularly if they have sight problems, are not confident understanding English, or if they find the information confusing. 

Remembering to take medication 

A person with dementia may need reminding to take their medication at the right time.

Many will also take medication for other health conditions. As a result, it’s common for a person with dementia to take many different medications every day. This can easily lead to confusion and mistakes – for example, missing a dose or taking too much.

There are ways to make it as simple and easy as possible for the person to take their medication correctly, including: 

  • Checklists – A daily checklist of medications, which can be ticked off once taken, can be very helpful. These can often be provided by a pharmacist at your GP practice. Having a picture on the checklist for each medication can sometimes help.  
  • Simple steps – A pharmacist can review the person’s medications and work out the simplest and easiest way to take them all. This can involve reducing the number of doses of a medication that needs to be taken each day and removing any medications that aren’t needed anymore. It also involves making sure the packaging is easy to open and the instructions are easy to read. To access this service, contact your GP and ask for a medication review. 
  • Reminders – Reminders, such as an alarm, can help people to maintain their medication routine. Smartphone apps, smart speakers or other devices can be set to remind the person that it’s time to take each medication. 
  • Pill boxes – Pill boxes have different compartments for each day of the week to help a person know which medications to take when. They can be useful but they aren’t always the best solution for everyone. Some have flashing lights or alarms to remind the person to take their medicine. Others will even call a carer if the medication isn’t taken. Some pharmacists can supply medication pre-packed in blister packs or pill boxes if it’s suitable for the person and the medications they take. 

No one solution is perfect. Pill boxes are only useful for pills and tablets – not for other forms of medication, such as liquids, oro-dispersible tablets (that dissolve under the tongue) or skin patches. They may also not work well if the person loses a sense of what time of day it is. 

Reminders also tend to become less effective as the person’s dementia develops. Eventually, the person will need more support from a carer to be able to take their medication regularly and safely. 

Professional carers are not allowed to help a person take their medication if it’s been put into a pill box by someone other than a pharmacist.

The ideal way for a professional carer to give a person their medication is by taking it out of the original packaging and ticking it off on a chart, known as a Medicines Administration Record. This should be managed by the care agency who coordinate with the person’s GP about changes to prescriptions. 

What happens if you miss a dose of medication?

If the person doesn’t take their medication on time, they should take it as soon as they remember – as long as it is on the same day. If it’s the next day, the person should not take any extra tablets to make up for the missed dose. They should just continue with their normal dose. If they miss taking a medication that’s supposed to be taken twice daily, they should just take one in the evening. It’s important not to take two doses at the same time. 

Taking medication when fasting 

Many people choose to go without food or drink during the day for religious or spiritual reasons. Some religions make exceptions for people who are unwell or frail, including those with dementia. However, a person may still choose to observe the practices they have followed for many years, while they are still able to. 

Fasting can have implications for taking medication for dementia symptoms. Taking medication on an empty stomach can make some of the side effects worse, such as feeling dizzy or sick. For this reason, some people may prefer to take their medication in the evening with food once they have finished fasting.

It’s always a good idea to check with a local pharmacist on any changes to the way that a medication is taken, even if they are only temporary. 

Avoiding alcohol 

Drinking alcohol can stop dementia medication from working properly. It can also increase the chances of unpleasant side effects. Ideally, medicine should always be taken with a glass of water.