Feeling Confused? Poor Memory? Check Your Medications!

August 11, 2009 at 1:10 pm Leave a comment

Medication Image by Egahen on Stock.XhcngYesterday, my stepfather needed a little help sorting out his prescriptions for a   reduced cost program.  Not surprising.. he’s got a whole basketful of pill bottles, all generics with very limited info on the bottles.  It’s enough to confuse anyone!

I got on the phone with him, intending to just be moral support and help keep him on track as he made notes in preparation for the paperwork.

Very quickly, it was clear he needed more than moral support.

He seemed just overwhelmed by the task, very confused, couldn’t follow my instructions and didn’t seem to remember what anything was for.  I told him to put Mom on the phone, please, and that we’d do it for him.   She ended up chasing him out of the room because he kept picking up bottles and putting them in the wrong pile.

So bottle by bottle, we went through the bottles of pills..

Mom wrote them down on a master list, and I looked the names online so we’d know what each medication was for.

She admitted she was very worried about him – he seemed so confused, and his mother had suffered with severe dementia in her later years.  And for months his sleep had been disrupted by severe insomnia, which had him so exhausted he was so groggy during the day he’d be forced to go back to bed until 1-2 in the afternoon.  I told her sleep deprivation can cause severe confusion, and not to worry too much, but that it’s time to get serious about treating it.

That’s when she picked up a ‘script she wasn’t familiar with – a quick look online revealed it to be a generic form of Ambien, a powerful sleeping aide.

“Why isn’t he taking this for the insomnia, Mom?”

“I don’t know, let me ask… ”

She hollered at him across the house, and I listened in on speaker phone.

“Why aren’t you taking the Ambien??”
“I am! But it doesn’t work.”
“It doesn’t work, but you’re still taking it?”
“YES! Every morning….”

Mom and I both fell into stunned silence.

Wait. Every MORNING? Check Your Medications!  Illustration by srbichara on Stock.Xchng

We double checked.

Yes, he was taking it every morning.

For MONTHS he’d been taking a  strong sleeping pill/sedative along with his morning coffee, and wondering why he couldn’t seem to wake up.    The mix-up had predictable effects – extreme exhaustion, mental confusion, poor memory, and an inability to sleep at night because that’s when the Ambien was finally wearing off, and his mind was clearing.

First he claimed that’s what the doctor told him.  Then he tried to blame it on Mom moving his pills around.   But bottom line, how it started didn’t really matter – once he’d gotten it mixed up, he was  too sleepy and confused to realize there’s no way a sleeping pill should be taken in the morning.

We zipped through the rest of the list with ease, and made sure that the Ambien, muscle relaxers and powerful pain pills were in a separate box marked “as needed/evening ONLY”.  Mom promised to work out colored stickers for the tops of the bottles designating morning, evening  and “as needed”  medications.

The Lesson?

If you or someone you know is experiencing confusion, memory problems, lack of focus or other symptoms of poor cognitive function,  check medications as a first step towards dementia prevention.

And do a complete check!  Look up each prescription, it’s purpose,  recommended doses, prescribed doses, when it should be taken, and write it down along with how you’re *actually* taking it, too.    Compare the recommended dose with what’s prescribed – sometimes errors happen, and the instructions that wind up on the bottle aren’t always accurate.  If you find a difference between the standard and prescribed amounts, double check it with the doctor.  (My stepdad was doubling up on an antihistamine, which may have contributed to the groggy confusion as well… and he’s not sure if the doctor told him it was ok, or not. )

Once you have the list, take it  to  your doctor and/or pharmacy and ask about interactions and side effects. If multiple doctors are involved (they usually are) make sure they each have a full copy of the list.  Ask specifically about side effects of confusion and how the drugs may interact.

I’ve learned a personal lesson from this episode – never trust someone suffering from confusion to accurately check their own prescriptions!  A month or so ago, I’d waked my stepfather through a brain-fitness check list I’m developing, and he’d quickly assured me that his medications were all fine, and none could cause side effects of confusion.  Of course, he forgot to mention the Ambien, antihistamine, or strong pain killers.

So if you are suffering from memory, confusion or focus issues, don’t try to check your medications on your own.  Ask for help from family members, friends, or social workers, pharmacists, or your doctor.   If necessary, make a doctors appointment strictly to double check your prescriptions – take the whole bunch of them with you, along with any over the counter pills you’re taking, too, and let someone knowledgeable go over the full list. Daily Pills image by tinapalace on Stock.Xchng

After this episode, Mom will be taking the complete list of both his and her medications  to all of his doctors as well as the local pharmacy.  I know I’ll feel a lot better about them, that way!

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A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
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Authored by Tori Deaux
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