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It can be a challenge for caregivers when a loved one with dementia refuses to take their medication. In these situations, a person with dementia may be refusing to take their medication due to confusion or feeling afraid. Below, we outline some ways in which you can respond to this difficult situation, and perhaps create a different outcome.

How to Respond

  • Create a calm environment
    • Make sure to create a calm environment (e.g. turn off the TV, avoid giving medications where there are a lot of people present) when it is time to give them their medication.
  • Give them time
    • Refusing to take medications could be due to them feeling afraid or rushed. Try breaking down into simple words what you want them to do. For instance, hand them the pill and demonstrate how to take a pill. If they want to be involved in the process of taking medication, let them as this will allow them to still feel in control. For instance, you can pour them water but maybe they can pick up the pill from the table and put in their mouth. Assist them gently if you think they need assistance.
  • Consult your doctor and/or pharmacist
    • Be observant if there are any medications that are making them sick or feel uncomfortable as these could be some reasons as to why they are refusing to take medications. If you suspect this could be the case, speak to their doctor to see if any medications can be replaced.
  • Make it easier to take pills
    • Are the pills large and hard to swallow? Consult their pharmacist to see if the pills are crushable and can be mixed in with yogurt or apple sauce. Not all pills can be crushed, so consult their pharmacist beforehand. You can also consult their doctor to see if the pills are available in a liquid form.
  • Take note of things that trigger distress
    • Some people with dementia could become distressed from seeing all the pills that they have to take. If that is the case, take the pills out only when they need to be taken and keep all the other pill bottles out of their sight.
  • Try again in 10-15 minutes
    • Don’t force them to take their medications as this might make them more frustrated. Give them some time to calm down and return with the medication in 10-15 minutes.
  • Be their medication buddy
    • If you also take medications, try to take it with them at the same time they take theirs. You could say something like “Let’s take our medication. Here is mine and here is yours”

Sources: Daily Caring, BrightFocus Foundation