Why would someone with Alzheimer’s refuse medication?

Getting someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia to take their medicine can be a constant challenge for many caregivers.

Refusing to take medicine could be a response to being confused or feeling afraid of what they’re being asked to do.

Your older adult might also feel like they don’t have any control over their life, which could make them generally angry or resistant.

To make this important task easier and less stressful, we’ve got 11 tips to overcome challenges and convince someone to take their medicine.

11 ways to get someone with dementia to take medication

get someone with dementia to take medication

1. Create a calm and quiet environment
When it’s time for medication, start with a calm environment.

Make sure there aren’t any loud sounds like TV or commotion like lots of people around. You could also try playing soft, soothing music.

Before you start, take some deep breaths and do your best to stay calm throughout the process. If you’re agitated, frustrated, or angry, they’ll be able to sense it and will also become agitated and less likely to cooperate.

2. Be alert to side effects or illness that make them feel sick or uncomfortable
Someone might refuse to take their medicine if it makes them feel sick, uncomfortable, or if they have an illness.

Many medications cause unpleasant side effects like nausea, stomach aches, agitation, or dizziness and your older adult might not be able to tell you that there’s a problem. If you suspect this could be the issue, speak to the doctor about how to improve the situation.

They could also have something else going on like dental problems that make their gums or teeth hurt, poorly fitting dentures, a urinary tract infection, a cold or flu, or a sore throat.

3. Eliminate medications or supplements that aren’t absolutely necessary
Many seniors take multiple medications. Sometimes doctors forget to review medications to see if they’re still needed.

The last thing you need is to try to get your older adult to take more pills than absolutely necessary.

Speak with their doctor to see if any medications are no longer needed and could be safely discontinued.

Fewer pills = less hassle over taking medicine.

4. Make pills easier to take
Some pills could be too large and hard to swallow.

Talk with your older adult’s doctor or pharmacist to see if any of their medications could be changed to a liquid formula or if you could crush the pills and add them to applesauce, yogurt, or food.

Make sure to ask before crushing any pills because not all pills are crushable. Some can become less effective or even unsafe.

5. Use short sentences and don’t explain or reason
Don’t get into a conversation about why they need the medication or explain why it’s important that they need to take their pills.

Reasoning with someone with dementia simply doesn’t work. Instead, use short, direct sentences to help them accomplish the goal.

For example, you could just hand them the pill, demonstrate what you want them to do by putting a pretend pill in your own mouth, and wait patiently for them to put their own pill into their mouth, then say “Big drink of water.”

6. Look for things that trigger distress
Sometimes other things about taking medication can upset someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

For example, they could feel distressed when they see a lot of pill bottles. In that situation, you could keep their medication bottles out of sight and only bring out the pills they need to take at that moment.

Similarly, if seeing all the pills they need to take makes them anxious, you could give them only one pill at a time and keep the rest out of sight.

7. Be their medication buddy
Taking your own medicine at the same time they do can make it more of a buddy experience. You might say, “It’s time for our medicine. Here’s mine and here’s yours.”

If you don’t take any medications, see if you can get away with “taking” a harmless food item like an M&M or Skittles candy.

8. Don’t force it, try again in 10-15 minutes
Sometimes there’s nothing you can say or do to get your older adult to take their medication.

If that happens, don’t try to force it. Leave them alone for a bit so you can both calm down. In 15 minutes (or so), give it another try.

9. Find the right time of day
People with dementia often have good and bad times of day. Trying to give medicine during one of their bad times isn’t likely to work.

For example, if your older adult typically gets sundowning symptoms, avoid giving medication in the late afternoon or evening unless the doctor absolutely requires it for an important medical reason.

Think about the times of day when they’re in the best moods and adjust their medication schedule to meet those times.

Of course, before making any changes to their medication schedule, talk with their doctor to make sure the new schedule you’d like to use is safe and won’t cause any problems.

10. Stick to a daily routine
A daily routine can do wonders for someone with dementia. With a regular schedule for taking medication, your older adult will get used to it and become more cooperative.

Give them their pills at the same time every day. Do it in the same place, like when they’re relaxing in their favorite chair, and use the same cup for water.

For some people, making medication part of their after-meal routine works well because they’re still in “eating mode.”

11. Offer a treat
Young or old, we all love treats. You might consider offering a treat as a reward for taking their medication.

For example, put a small piece of chocolate in front of your older adult and say that it’s their treat after they finish their pills.

It might even help take away any bitter taste the medicine leaves and associates something positive with taking medicine.