When the Person in my care says “No!”

As a caregiver, it may feel frustrating if a person refuses to take medications as prescribed. Be creative and test strategies until you find one or two that work for you; this can take time and patience. The following are some suggested strategies that may help if the person you are caring for says “no” to medications:

Find out why

Find a calm and relaxed time to ask the person about why they do not want to take their medications. Finding out why someone refuses may help to solve some unknown issues. Consider the following questions to ask:  

  • What this medication is for? Why are you taking it?
  • How does this medication make you feel after taking it? Do you feel sick, dizzy, too sleepy?
  • Do you believe something bad may happen if you take this medication (e.g. addiction to pain medication)?
  • Is the medication working for you?
  • Is it the taste or difficulty swallowing pills?

Together, you and the person in your care should share these answers with the prescribing health care professional and talk about solutions.

Respect their wishes

Alter the schedule if possible

Keep it simple

Stay calm

Don’t force it

Medications and Dementia

Here are some additional tips for you if you are caring for a person living with dementia. People who live with dementia may refuse medications more often. Review the following tips to see if any work for you.

  • Stay cheerful: Keeping positive is an important aspect of dementia care. A calm and gentle approach builds trust and lowers anxiety in the person living with dementia.
  • Keep it simple: Talk to a qualified health care professional about which medications are absolutely necessary and which can be trimmed back. Showing one pill at a time, giving one or two-word cues, and having a glass of something to drink at the ready might be all you need to decrease anxiety.
  • Be together: Stay with the person when taking medications. Take your medications (or a small candy) with the person when they take theirs.
  • Come back later: Try again in 15 minutes with a gentle voice and positive attitude.
  • Don’t force it: In many cases, a person has the right to refuse medication, even if they have dementia. Speak to a health care professional about your role to support medication management in accordance with the person’s level of dementia.  For example, hiding pills in food may work sometimes, but it is not appropriate to hide pills in the food of someone who is competent to refuse. If medication refusal is causing distress in the older person every day, it may be time to consider if there are other ways of taking the medication (patch, liquid) or if stopping the medication all together is more beneficial for comfort and quality of life. Do not stop any medications until you have spoken to a qualified health care professional about this issue.
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