You’ve done all the ground work. You’ve researched, tweaked and settled the plans. The itineraries are printed out, nearly every possible contingency considered. You and mom and dad, or you and gran, or you and someone else elderly and beloved are off together for an adventure! Fantastic!
Father Christmas just the other day offered his most excellent travel advice, so you are in pretty good shape already. There is, however, one area we might want to cover in a bit more detail before you set out. It is very, very likely that your parents or other elderly charges take prescription medications regularly. This means you will be traveling with the drugs. It is extremely important, then, that you know the name or names of all these medications and precisely why they are being taken.
In an ideal world, the doctor will write down all instructions accompanying each prescription – when taken, why taken, how taken (with food, with water and so on). You will also be told what kinds of interactions or adverse side effects to watch for. Medicines can affect the elderly differently than younger people, and the fatigue of travel and the disruption of regular routines can also cause problems. It may appear that the medication is not working or even making your parent or relative ill. They may want to stop taking the drug – but try your best not to let this happen without first checking with their doctor.
Given that this is a real world, not an ideal world, here are some questions to ask the doctor about any medications your older companions will be bringing along on the trip. If the doctor or the staff makes a list for you, so much the better:
- What are the common side effects? What signs should I pay special attention to?
- What should I do if my parent misses a dose? Or takes an extra dose by mistake?
- When will the medicine begin to work?
- Should he/she take the meds at mealtime, or between meals?
- Should he/she drink a whole glass of water with the medicine?
- Are there any foods, other drugs or activities that should be avoided by someone taking this (these) medication(s)?
- Will we need to refill this prescription while traveling? How do we arrange this?
- Is there any risk of addiction or other problem associated with this drug?
- How do I contact you in case of an emergency while traveling?
Remember what the doctor told you about any prescriptions. This means, of course, that you should take some notes. No one can keep all this stuff in their head, let alone understand it, without some practice. A good technique is to listen to what he/she tells you, wait for a moment, then repeat it back to the doctor in your own words. Ask ‘is that right?’ when you are done. And do not be afraid to ask them for more information or better explanations as you go along. There is nothing wrong with ‘I’m sorry….I don’t understand….could we go over that again?’. Take notes and ask the doctor for any printed materials about the medications he/she might have on hand. You might consider bringing someone along with you and share what you’ve heard.
More about written or recorded materials. Along with information about a specific drug or medication, many doctors now have really useful printed handouts, DVDs, CDs and brochures about specific health conditions and treatments. You might pick up something about your mom’s high blood pressure, finding out what causes or aggravates it – good to know as you travel together. And there are all sorts of websites, nonprofit organizations and government publications that are helpful. See if the doctor has any recommendations or preferred sites.
Other members of the doctor’s health care staff are also great resources and may have more time for you than the doctor. And should you still be unclear or uncertain about something once you get back home, call or email the office. Check with the staff to see what email address you should use for these inquiries. And be sure to go over the newest regulations regarding prescription medications and airplane travel. It is not difficult to organize this before you set off, and it is especially important to understand how everything works should your companion need treatment while on a plane.
Finally, we offer this little list of the most common abbreviations found on the labels of prescription bottles. Medications must be taken as directed, and it will certainly help the cause if we can understand those directions!
- p.r.n. as needed
- a.c. before meals
- q.d. every day
- p.c. after meals
- b.i.d. twice per day
- h.s. at bedtime
- t.i.d. three times per day
- p.o. by mouth
- q.i.d. four times per day
- ea. each