(130) Boomer to Boomer: Caregiver Tools for Managing Veteran Medications

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


Meet Boomer

Everyone loved Boomer and nearly everyone named their dog Boomer when I grew up. No longer a popular name for a dog, Boomer now refers to the generation of us Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. We were the generation that grew up with pencil and paper. A computer hogged 25,000 square feet of space and required punch cards for data entry. Television consisted of a picture tube and cabinet, featuring three channels if you were lucky.

Boomer-Deluxe Medication Tracking System

Why the Boomer talk? Because, the tools I want to offer the caregiver today are ones that I prepared to keep me organized with my Veteran’s medications. Not fancy but functional, I had to create a method to track my spouse’s medications when the number of prescribed pills exceeded the age of my adult son. While I could have created a spreadsheet, I would have to rely on my 18-month old granddaughter to make changes to the document. It would be beyond my ability to alter columns. So, what I offer is a Boomer-deluxe version that is easy enough for us Boomers to use.

The tracking sheet features two Microsoft Word tables. The first table, Medication Schedule, is used to show the pills needed by time of day. I list the pills I need for both the morning and evening in the first three columns. I fill these pill containers first. Then, I add the morning only pills (listed in the middle three columns). Once finished with the morning pills, I close those containers and work on the evening pills (shown in the last three columns). Listing his medications this way makes filling them quick and accurate; the schedule is easy for another family member or your Veteran to follow if necessary. If you have afternoon pills to dispense, you can follow the same regime by adding an afternoon set of columns.

The second Microsoft Word table, Medication and Health Summary, lists all of his prescriptions in alphabetical order (use the drug name on the bottle to avoid confusion when speaking with health care professionals). This table lists the name of the drug, dosage and frequency, the health reason for the med (purpose), the prescribing doctor’s name, and the date started or changed. On the bottom, I include a section to list all of his doctor’s names, addresses, and phone numbers; emergency contact information; surgeries and their dates; allergies; and, non-prescription drugs taken, including vitamins and herbal supplements. This list provides all of your Veteran’s information in one place and comes in handy in the emergency room or at follow-up doctor appointments. Since keeping both lists updated is critical, the tables automatically update to the current date in the footer (bottom left of page) when you make changes to either table.

Special Items for Medication Management

Walmart, grocery stores, and pharmacies carry pill holders in different configurations. You can even find them inexpensively online and occasionally in the dollar store. I have tried them all and find that the jumbo boxes for a week works best with a lot of pills. I use one color for morning and another for evening. I make sure I mark on the boxes AM, PM, or NOON with a permanent marker. While I fill his boxes once a month, I find that taking out one week of AM and PM pill boxes prevents confusion and allows me to confirm he has taken his pills.

I store all of his medications in a plastic container with a lid. On the top of each bottle, I label it with an abbreviation for the contents by using a permanent marker so that I can find the bottle I need quickly. I always fill the pills in the order they are listed on his Medication Schedule so that if I am interrupted, I know where I left off.

Because the VA recommends you order each medication as soon as you receive the refill in the mail, I often end up with multiple bottles of the same pills. I usually label the bottle with an identifier and number it as “2” or “3” and put it in a bag on top of my plastic box rather than placing it inside the box so that I don’t have to sort through extra bottles.

My plastic pill box is also equipped with:

  • Tweezers to remove a pill that I didn’t mean to place in a box
  • Pill cutter (the VA likes to dispense a standard dosage pill that often requires you to cut in half if the prescribed dosage is not the standard—the VA provides the pill cutter free if you ask)
  • Permanent ink marker to write on tops of the pill bottles
  • Plastic grocery bag to toss empty bottles, cotton stuffing, silicone inserts, and safety seals
  • Notepad to list any medications I need to reorder
  • Sticky notes (I use these to label any boxes that might be missing a med if I run out; remove when filled)

Contract Out your Veteran’s Medication Management

A neighbor of ours showed us the method of medication management she used for her daughter every summer for camp. The camp required she use a company to bag her daughter’s meds to ensure proper dispensing. While I prefer to manage my husband’s meds, which are constantly changing, I never pursued this. If you are a family caregiver, who is bombarded with demands on your time, you might want to consider this option. There are a number of electronic pill dispensers on the market and even companies that offer dispensers with electronic connection to alert you if your Veteran missed his or her dosage. For those of you Millennials, you probably already use the iRobot you built in kindergarten to handle this task.

Beware of Dog

When filling your spouse’s pill containers, beware that your pupster lurks under the table eager to snag a dropped pill. Molly loves the fish oil but avoids the PTSD pills, which is a good thing. Nothing worse than a service dog on anti-depressants.

Next Week’s Blog

Ever wonder what the most popular dog names are? Boomer certainly will not make the top ten. Visit Miss Molly on Tuesday to find out last year’s most popular puppy names.

Post your Comments:

Do you have a special way of organizing or managing your Veteran’s medications that you would like to share? Please reply below.

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.