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What to Do When an Elderly Parent Refuses Medication

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
6 minute readLast updated February 11, 2024

Managing medications is a common challenge when caring for aging parents. Seniors can take several different medications daily, making it easy to miss a dose. However, missed doses can lead to serious health issues, changed behavior, and decreased overall well-being. It’s a small oversight that can have big consequences, underscoring the importance of establishing a solid medication routine.

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Why seniors refuse to take medication and how to help

When your aging parent resists or refuses medication, it can be challenging to know what to do next. Here are four common reasons why older adults stop taking their medication and practical tips for addressing each of them.

1. Undesirable taste

If your elderly parent is not taking their medication due to its taste, check the prescription label or ask the doctor if it can be taken with food. When mixing medication with food, consider the following:
  • Is the medication required to be taken on an empty stomach?
  • Can the medication be crushed for easier swallowing or blending with food?
  • Is it safe to take the medication with dairy or certain juices?
If food pairing is allowed, you can hide pills in small food pieces or mix liquid medication with a preferred beverage, making it easier for your parent to stomach. If the medication can’t be crushed, placing it in easy-to-swallow foods like applesauce or pudding might help. For medicines that can’t be taken with food, have your loved one place it at the back of their tongue and wash it down with plenty of water.

2. Uncomfortable side effects

Often, older adults refuse medication because of bothersome side effects. Stronger medications, while necessary, can bring about unpleasant reactions like an upset stomach or drowsiness. It’s important to be aware of these side effects and to ask your parent how they feel. If medications continuously affect their quality of life, mention these side effects to their health care provider or pharmacist. There might be alternative medications, therapies, or additional advice to help ease symptoms and prevent further issues.

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3. Forgetfulness

Forgetfulness can play a role in a dementia patient refusing to take their medication. They may resist if they mistakenly think they’ve already taken their pills. If your loved one lives alone and frequently forgets to take their medication, it can become a serious — even life-threatening — issue. Forgetting occasionally is understandable, especially with multiple doses daily. However, if it’s a recurring problem, these solutions can help:
  • Pill organizers
  • Medication management devices or pill dispensers
  • Reminder services like cell phone alarms
  • Medication checklists
  • Consolidating medications into fewer pills (with physician approval)
These strategies address the common challenge of aiding elderly loved ones with medications despite forgetfulness. Yet nothing replaces responsible caregiver advocacy. Accompany your parent to doctor’s visits, bring their medications, and ask questions. All of these strategies together can help you ensure medication adherence for your loved one.

4. Simply not caring

When your aging parent refuses to take their medication, whether due to a perceived lack of need or difficulty opening the bottle, it’s time to identify the underlying cause. Understanding their reluctance is the first step to finding a solution. A simple conversation expressing your concern and willingness to understand their perspective can be revealing. For instance, saying, “I want to understand your concerns. Can you share why you don’t want to take your medicine?” can help you pinpoint the problem.
Additionally, consulting with a doctor or pharmacist can provide valuable insights, as they likely have encountered similar medication adherence issues before. They can offer advice on addressing medication refusal and may suggest alternative approaches or therapies. Depression can often be a factor in medication refusal, so consider seeking support from a therapist if needed. Alternative therapies may also be an option but always consult with health care professionals to ensure a safe and effective care plan.

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Medication safety tips

Medication mismanagement is a widespread issue, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting hundreds of thousands of older adults facing emergencies due to medication problems every year.[01] To aid caregivers, seniors, and their loved ones, geriatrician Leslie Kernisan, MD, provides a senior medication safety checklist in her article, “5 Medication Safety Tips for Seniors.”
Navigating medication management with a loved one suffering from dementia can be especially challenging. If the strategies outlined here don’t make a long-term difference, it may be time to seek professional guidance. Consulting with a Senior Care Advisor and exploring memory care options can help ensure your loved one receives the care and medication management they need in a supportive environment.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 6). Adverse drug events in adults.

Meet the Author
OurParents Staff

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom (of which OurParents is a trademark) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.