A friend, family
member or neighbour who helps someone with daily living or health-related
activities. There are many ways to help, such as helping with medicine,
recognizing problems and discussing them with a health care professional,
picking up prescriptions, arranging for transportation to and from appointments.
In some situations caregivers may actually administer medicine, not just
supervise or assist.
Sometimes caregivers themselves are seniors and the conditions and challenges
addressed on this site apply to them as well as the person they are helping.
Their attitudes and knowledge about the safe use of medicine are very
a person takes to feel better or become healthier. Tablets, capsules,
pills, liquids, puffers (inhalers), creams, patches, drops, needles, even
vitamins, herbs, ointments, laxatives, aspirin and antacids are all different
types of medicine.
An older adult, used
here to refer to those taking medicine on a regular basis. People react
differently to medicine as they age, and older people tend to take more
medicine, which means there could be more medicine-related problems.
How people follow
instructions for taking medicine, following diets or making lifestyle
Home Support Worker
who is paid to help someone with daily living or health-related activities.
There are many other community resources, such as hotlines, meal services
and support groups.
as adverse drug reactions (ADRs), side effects are symptoms or bad reactions
a medicine can cause besides what it was meant to do. Dizziness is a dangerous
side effect because it can cause a person to fall and injure himself/herself.
Mental confusion and dehydration (fluid loss) are other dangerous side
effects. Sometimes the side effects go away, and sometimes they’re
minor enough to handle until the medicine is finished. Some side effects
are expected, and others are found through lab tests or physical exams.
If you think someone is having a bad reaction, trust your instincts and
take action — call the pharmacist or go to the hospital.
What is the Safe Use Project?
Building Awareness of Safe Use of Medicines Among Family Caregivers
of Seniors and Chronically Ill Children (the Safe Use Project) is
a partnership between the Canadian
Healthcare Association, the Canadian Association for Community Care,
the Canadian Pharmacists
Association and the Victorian
Order of Nurses for Canada.
The Project aims to raise awareness about safe medicine use among family
members, friends and/or neighbours who provide care to seniors and children
with chronic illness.
For more information, see the About the
Why a Guide and a Workshop About the Safe Use
Drug therapy, or medicine, is now the most common health care treatment.
It is being used to prevent illness and as a substitute for treatments
like longer hospital stays. As the Canadian population ages and requires
more care, more drugs are being used more often.
Medicine, either prescribed or over-the-counter, can improve health and
well-being. Many people, including older adults and children with chronic
illness, depend on medicine to provide relief, control their medical conditions
and help them lead normal, active or independent lives. But when not taken
properly, it can sometimes cause other health-related problems. In fact,
up to 30% of all emergency room visits are drug-related. Learning about
safe ways to use medicine at home can help reduce drug-related problems.
The safe and responsible use of medicine is important for everyone, but
is of particular concern to seniors. Canadian seniors take more medication
than any other group in the population. Older adults are more likely to
suffer from conditions that need drug treatment. At the same time, the
way the body changes with age makes seniors more sensitive to medicine
and can affect the way their bodies react to medicine.
Many seniors are also taking several kinds of prescription and non-prescription
medicine at the same time. As a result, they are more exposed to the risk
of side effects from unnecessary or incorrect treatment and the misuse
of medicine. Drug-related problems have become common for seniors.
Why do Caregivers Need Tools and Resources?
Caregivers may find themselves helping with, giving and/or managing many
different medicines, filling and picking up prescriptions, and monitoring
schedules. They see the results of any side effects and must react accordingly.
Yet medicine is often considered the responsibility of the health professional
and the patient, even though caregivers play a larger role and more drugs
are being used outside of hospitals and doctors’ offices.
In some situations caregivers give medicine directly, rather than supervise
or assist. Sometimes caregivers themselves are seniors, and the conditions
and challenges described on this site apply to them as well as the people
they are helping.
Another serious concern is non-compliance. Many people do not take medicine
properly, or stick to their routines. The resulting negative health effects
cost Canadians billions of dollars every year.
Caregivers need information and support themselves to help them help
What are Some Common Mistakes and Problems
Some common mistakes with medicine:
- Taking the wrong dose
- Not finishing medicine
- Using old medicine
- Sharing medicine with others
- Mixing medicine with alcohol
- Forgetting to take medicine at the right time
- Stopping and starting medicine instead of continuing regularly
Some common problems with medicine:
- Lids are hard to open on medicine containers
- Instructions are hard to read on labels
- Pills are too large to swallow easily
How do I Store Medicine Safely?
Medicines should not be kept in the bathroom or kitchen because the dampness
can affect them. The same goes for any place too warm (near a stove, heater
or in the sun). The best place would be a bedroom drawer or a cupboard.
Some medicine must be kept in the fridge. Try to keep all medicine together
for convenience. The person should be able to get to them but not young
children and pets.
What are the Main Do’s and Don’ts
Not sharing: Medicine is chosen for one person
and that person specifically. Sharing with someone else may make that
other person sick, and will mean there is less medicine for the person
it was meant for.
Following routine and finishing medicine: Even
if a person feels better, all the medicine must be finished, or the person
could get sick again. Some medicine has to be taken at certain times to
make sure there is the proper amount of medicine in a person’s body
(not too much, not too little) and to make sure it works longer. It may
help to write a list of all medicine and note the time each has to be
taken, or use a calendar. Tools like medicine
charts can help you keep track.
Preparing to go to a hospital: Bring a list
of all medicine the person is taking, and give it to the admissions staff
to put in the person’s chart. Remind doctors and nurses the list
is available for their information.
Preparing to leave the hospital: Make sure
you have all the instructions and prescriptions for any new medicine needed,
or any changes to old medicine. Also find out what to stop, and what to
continue — including over-the-counter medicine, vitamins and herbal/natural
products. Ask any questions you might have, or write them down for the
next time you see a doctor or pharmacist.
Preparing for a doctor’s visit: Prepare
or write down any questions you might have. Take a list of all medicine
or take the medicine to review with the doctor.
Preparing to talk to a pharmacist or to pick up a prescription:
Prepare any questions you might have. Again, take a list of all medicine
or take the medicine to review with the pharmacist.
Poison control centres: The first page in the
phonebook (white pages) lists the poison information telephone number.
If you think there’s been an overdose, or if the person taking medicine
is having a bad reaction, call for information. Have the medicine handy
to tell the operator its name.
Brand name: The product name of a drug. Every
drug has both a brand name and a generic name. One example is brand name:
Advil; generic name: ibuprofen.
Generic name: The chemical name of a drug.
Every drug has both a generic name and a brand name.
What Should I Know about the Medicine?
There is some basic information you need to know about the medicine the
person you’re helping is taking, especially if you have to act on
the person’s behalf with a doctor, pharmacist, specialist or hospital.
For instance, what the name is, what it is for, when and how to take it.
You can use tools such as a medicine
chart to help you keep track and take it along when you visit the
doctor or pharmacist.
What Else Should I Know About the Person?
Other things you need to know include: How many kinds of medicine does
the person take? When was the person’s last doctor appointment?
When was the last time the person (or you) talked to a pharmacist? If
the person sees a specialist, when was the last appointment? What kinds
of ailments or conditions does the person have? Tools such as checklists
can help you keep track of these things.
What Information is Available on this Website?
Because medicine is now the most common health care tool, the safe use
of medicine is increasingly important and complex. Using medicine properly
cuts down on health problems later. This website is designed to provide
support, information and resources to caregivers of seniors and children
with chronic illness.
The Caregivers of Seniors section is intended
to provide tools like a guide, a medicine chart and an information checklist.
The Caregivers of Children with Chronic Illness
section has information that includes research reports and other resources.
Service Providers is designed to present
a workshop manual for promoting safe medicine use among caregivers of
What’s New and What’s
New (archives) offer updates on the project and other developments.
Check the Need Help Now? section for other
useful areas of the website and various other organizations.
Information about the Project partners is found in Project
Partners & Sponsor.
Find out more about the project like the context, goals and objectives,
results and products in About the Project.
Your Feedback is your opportunity to share
your opinions, comments and suggestions about this website.
Other organizations and resources like poison control centres and government
departments can be found in Links.