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5 Reasons Seniors May Not Take Their Medication

According to recent research, seniors may not take their medication when they should. The likelihood of this happening also increases with age.

The health consequences of not taking prescribed medication at all or not taking the recommended dosage can be severe. Doing so can cause health conditions to get worse and side effects can occur if medication isn’t taken at the right time or in the right dose.

Believe it or not, there are several valid reasons seniors don’t follow protocol. Here are the top reasons they don’t:

Memory Loss

Memory loss is one of the biggest culprits of medication lapses. As we age, our brain changes and forgetfulness becomes more commonplace. Stress and anxiety also can cause memory loss. In some cases, memory loss can lead to more serious conditions such as mild cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimer’s, which affects 5.4 million Americans and one in nine people age 65 and older.

What Caregivers Can Do: If memory loss is responsible for your loved one’s medication lapses, several things can help to curb their forgetfulness. Pill organizers and setting an alarm at a specific time every day are effective ways to remind them that they must take their medication. Technology can help, too. You can purchase a pillbox reminder that sounds every time a senior needs to take medication. Since the alarm is part of the box, everything will be within easy reach for your loved one.

Side Effects

Many medications come with side effects, especially if they are used in combination with other drugs. For seniors, there’s a great risk of this because they may take multiple medications for different chronic illnesses. Our bodies are all different, so some people may have a negative reaction to certain medication. One drug may cause drowsiness, nausea or stomach issues in one patient and work without fault in another. If your loved one is in the first category, he may avoid taking medication because it makes him feel worse, not better.

What Caregivers Can Do: Monitor your loved one and ask if they notice any unpleasant side effects from their medication. If they say yes, talk to their doctor or pharmacist about adjusting the dosage or prescribing an alternative. A doctor also can give you medical advice about the best ways to reduce these side effects if your loved one must continue taking the medication as prescribed.

Vision Loss

Vision loss may cause seniors not to properly take medication. If someone has a hard time reading the label on a pill container, they may take more than or too little of the recommended dose. If they have trouble finding their medication or deciphering it from other pills they are taking, they may avoid taking medication altogether because they fear misusing it.

What Caregivers Can Do: Ask the pharmacist if the print can be enlarged on the medication label. You also can write down instructions for your loved one and put them on the refrigerator, night stand or another place where they will be visible.

The Taste of Medication

Some seniors avoid taking certain medications simply because they don’t like the taste. This isn’t all that surprising. We associate taste with enjoyment when we eat. If we taste something that we consider foul or unpleasant, we’re more likely to avoid it. Medication falls into the same category.

What Caregivers Can Do: Ask your loved one’s doctor if he or she can take the medication with food, which can hide some of the unpleasant taste. Some medications also can be crushed and mixed into food or drinks, which should completely eliminate the taste altogether.


Your loved one simply may not take medication because he or she doesn’t want to or because the person feels it’s unnecessary. Aging can be difficult on many people, especially when it comes with a loss of independence or losing control over your health. Some elderly people may feel that they only way to regain this control is to follow their own plan of action rather than doctor’s orders. In some cases, cultural barriers may play a role or the person may feel natural, herbal remedies are better than anything pharmaceutical.

What Caregivers Can Do: In situations like this, it’s best to seek expert help. Take your loved one to the doctor and have the doctor talk to the senior about why he or she isn’t taking the medication. A doctor can clearly explain the risk of doing this or may be able to prescribe alternative treatments that work just as well and ease your loved one’s concerns.

As you get older, following your doctor’s orders becomes even more important. While we understand that some medications have side effects or that age-related memory loss can make it challenging to take medication, you must make every effort to take your medication as directed. If you don’t, it could put your health at risk.

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