My mother refuses to take her medications. What should I do?
People with memory loss often refuse medications for many different reasons. A place to start is by trying to figure out why your mom is refusing to take them.
Possible reasons might include:
- She doesn’t understand why she needs to take them.
- She is afraid they might hurt her.
- Saying ‘no’ is a way to have some control of her life.
- She has never liked taking medicine.
- She doesn’t trust the person who is giving them to her.
- She is having trouble swallowing them.
- The medications don’t taste good.
- There are too many medications.
What can you try?
You can see that your approach to this is going to depend, to some extent, on why she is refusing to take them. Sometimes a simple reminder of what the medicine is for is all that is needed. “Mom, Dr. Jones says this pill is what is keeping your heart beating regularly. He wants you to take them.”
If it is a control issue, think about ways to give her a little more control: “Would you like your medicine now or after breakfast?” If this is where she is taking a stand, can you make it more casual and less of a power struggle? “Mom, your pills are in the cup on the counter when you are ready for them.” Sometimes putting the medications in a cup near her meal is a good reminder that she needs to take her pills. Keep in mind if she has to take her pills before, after or with food.
If she is afraid or a little bit paranoid, you will need a different approach. Use the Behavior Detective Approach to pinpoint the times of day when she is most likely to be agreeable and try to give them to her then. You might need to back off and try again later.
Other things to think about:
- Does she need all the medicine she is taking? Can it be simplified? Are the pills prescribed for multiple times of the day? If so, you might want to talk to the doctor or pharmacist to see whether it’s possible to take them once a day or in a different form. The doctor for one elderly woman with dementia dropped her cholesterol medication, her vitamin and her calcium because she was overwhelmed by the number of pills and refusing to take them. He felt these were the least important in the long run, unlike her blood pressure pills.
- Ask the pharmacist if the medication comes in a different form. A liquid or patch might be easier than a pill, if available.
- Can the pill be taken with food or crushed in pudding or ice cream? Sometimes it can be hidden or disguised if it’s something the person really needs but refuses to take.
- Is this becoming a battleground between you? Is your body language and frustration adding to the problem?
While our book Coping with Behavior Change in Dementia: A Family Caregiver’s Guide offers many strategies for addressing challenging behaviors like this, sometimes there is no good solution. All you can do, as your mother’s caregiver, is your best.