With the vast majority of adults 65+ in the U.S. taking prescription medications regularly, understanding how senior living communities administer and manage medications can influence the decision you and your loved one make in selecting a community. While each state dictates precise guidelines, it remains important to understand the basics of medication administration, medication management, and what traits indicate a quality assisted living medication management program. Although human errors can occur, the use of medication management programs in senior living communities can help reduce the chance of medication errors.
While medication administration focuses on the route and the handling of and proper dispensing of medication, mediation management remains a larger umbrella above the former. It focuses on overall medication safety, including medication administration, medication compliance, drug interaction prevention, drug allergy detection, and education of caregivers and residents.
Medication management can be understood as the process of overseeing the medications themselves and tracking them as they’re administered to residents in senior living communities. Programs for medication management in elderly care environments may also be built around the concept of the “seven Rs” (described below), along with applicable state regulations and best industry practices.
Medication administration refers to the methods by which medications can be given to or taken by a resident, and to those overseeing the process. Often referred to as routes of medication, methods of administration may include taking medication orally, injecting the medication into the body, applying the medication to the skin, or inhaling the medication. Keep in mind that the term medication typically refers to prescriptions and may include medical marijuana in states where medical marijuana is legal.
When administering medication, all administrators must adhere to the following checkpoints, called the seven rights, or seven Rs, of medication administration:
Medication administration may be performed by a variety of people, depending on the route and other factors. In some cases, this may be referred to in the community as “passing meds.”
Each state dictates who may administer medications to residents in what types of senior living communities, and what qualifications they must have to do so. Generally, the following people may be seen passing meds in assisted living:
In most states, residents may also administer medications to themselves under specific circumstances.
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To learn more about a senior living community’s medication administration and medication management policies and procedures, you can ask them how they’d handle your loved one’s unique medical situation.
Dig deeper into a community’s medication policies and procedures by asking the following questions:
Individual states control many aspects of how senior living communities operate within their jurisdictions. In most places, this includes medication administration policies and medication management practices. What qualifies as medication administration and medication management varies depending on the locality. This can also vary between the types of communities themselves.
Seniors residing in assisted living communities, memory care communities, and nursing homes remain the most likely to have access to medication administration and medication management programs through their senior living communities. Even if these living environments offer medication administration, a resident — typically after being determined by a qualified medical professional as meeting state or local guidelines for eligibility — may still be able to self-administer medications.
As a courtesy to residents, some communities may provide medication reminders without administering medication. This helps keep residents on track with their wellness goals while still allowing them to administer medications to themselves. You may find that some states also allow family members to administer medications to their loved ones, regardless of their loved ones’ eligibility to self-administer medications.
When choosing a community for your loved one, you should seek to understand your local area’s guidelines for the type of community you’re considering, and you may need to investigate how those guidelines apply to your loved one’s specific prescriptions.
While guidelines and regulations vary by state, senior apartments and independent living communities rarely play an active role in medication administration and almost always allow the resident to self-administer. In many locations, the resident will take their prescription medication without any assistance from community staff or caregivers, a practice referred to as self-administration.
For seniors who need gentle reminders, technological advances can aid them in managing their medications in their senior apartment or independent living community. Automated medication dispensers — branded under many different company names — provide management of a person’s medications by alerting them and dispensing the right prescription drugs at the appropriate time. Some of these dispensers offer subscription services, technical support, and monitoring services to detect medication noncompliance. Speak with your loved one’s medical care team to determine if an automated medication dispenser makes sense for tracking their prescriptions.
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You may be wondering how state laws, rules, and regulations affect medication administration in senior living communities. View how California, Texas, and New York compare in the table below.
Please note that state-specific requirements change frequently, so it’s always best to check with your state regarding the most up-to-date guidelines.
|Medication Administration Criteria||California ||New York ||Texas |
|Can a resident self-administer medication?||Yes*||Yes*||Yes*|
|Can a family member administer medication to a loved one in a senior living community?||Yes*||Unclear||Unclear|
|Can assisted living, memory care, and/or skilled nursing facilities have staff administer medication?||Yes**||Yes**||Yes**|
|Can a resident be forced by a senior living community to take medication?||Generally, no — exceptions may apply for safety||Unclear||Unclear|
|Can staff assist a resident with administering medical marijuana?||Sometimes — restrictions/ limitations may exist||Unclear||Unclear|
*State-specific restrictions, guidelines, regulations, and/or laws may apply.
**Staff must meet specific qualifications, guidelines, and regulations, and/or comply with laws when administering medication, which may vary by state.
Seniors may experience an increased risk of medication-related errors when self-administering medications due to a variety of age-related factors, including memory issues, vision changes, limited dexterity in hands, and more. When facing financial pressures, older adults may not follow physicians’ directions and instead may skip or halve medication doses in an attempt to save money.
Polypharmacy — taking more than five prescription drugs on a routine basis — and having prescriptions from multiple doctors or pharmacies can also complicate a senior’s attempt to self-administer their medications with timeliness and accuracy.
Medical error research typically looks at long-term care facilities as a combined group. In the United States, there are an estimated 800,000 preventable medication-related injuries each year in these communities, according to a study in Quality and Safety in Health Care.
The same study indicated that the following situations account for the most common types of medication errors in long-term care facilities:
While this may sound scary, the study indicated that only 8% of these errors were identified as having “a serious patient impact.”
In general, these types of medication errors can happen for a variety of reasons, according to the Academy of Managed Pharmacy Care (AMPC). Those reasons include the following:
However, some errors can be prevented by using systems to prescribe and order medications, as noted by the AMPC.
A well-executed and effective medication management program in a senior living community helps maintain the health, safety, and general well-being of residents. This is largely because ensuring that medications are taken as prescribed can reduce medication-related errors.
Medication management programs typically accomplish the following:
Active seniors may function well with an automated medication dispenser in their independent living community, senior apartment, or in their home. It can be a good idea to compare in-home care and assisted living. If your loved one experiences issues with self-administering their medications, you may want to consider an assisted living community, memory care community, or nursing home that offers medication administration as part of its medication management program.
A Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom can help guide you through the process of finding a senior living community for your loved one’s unique medication needs.
Ross, S. M. (2019, March 19). 8 tips for the medication management process.
Kim, J. & De Jesus, O. (2021). Medication Routes of Administration. StatPearls Publishing LLC.
Hughes, R. G. & Blegen, M. A. (2008). Patient safety and quality: An evidence-based handbook for nurses. Chapter 37: Medication administration safety. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US).
California Department of Social Services. (2016). Medications guide residential care facilities for the elderly.
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. (2015, June 14). Compendium of residential care and assisted living regulations and policy: 2015 edition – New York profile.
Texas Secretary of State. Texas administrative code. Title 26.
Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy Health Policy Institute. Prescription drugs.
Pierson, S., Hansen, R., Greene, S., Williams, C., Akers, R., Jonsson, M., & Carey, T. (2007, August). Preventing medication errors in long-term care: results and evaluations of a large scale web-based error reporting system. Quality & Safety in Health Care.
Academy of Managed Pharmacy Care. (2019, July 18). Medication errors.
Peterson, A. (2021, March 21). Medication compliance and management for seniors. Walkermethodist.org.
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