When a Loved One Refuses to Take Alzheimer’s Medications: 7 Tips for the Caregiver

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM
  • Expert Advice
Published on:
Adult daughter with elderly father smiling while sitting down at home.

In my practice as an aging life care specialist, I often hear from caregivers about the challenges of giving medications to someone with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. “When I give my mom her medications, she gets angry,” is an often-heard statement. What is the best way to deal with this challenge so that medications are taken on a consistent basis?” 

When confronted by this situation, or by any challenging behavior, it is important to remember that the behaviors of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias that are commonly viewed as problems are attempts to communicate. Try to look at the situation from their perspective. Doing so can help to bring the behavior into focus and find a solution.  

When it is difficult to get a person with Alzheimer’s disease to take his or her medication, here are some approaches to consider: 

1. Provide a calm environment 

The first step in managing this process is to provide a calm environment. When it is medication time, be sure there is a calm environment in the house. Provide soft background music, turn off the TV, and minimize or eliminate any commotion. Be sure that you too are feeling calm. 

2. Break the process into steps 

Resisting medications can be your loved one’s response to feeling rushed, afraid, or confused about what they are supposed to do. Feeling a loss of control can also trigger resistance and anger. Try breaking the process down into steps and reassuringly and calmly explain what you are doing. Give them time. Any part of the process they can participate in should be encouraged. Perhaps you will need to pour the water into the glass, but they can pick the pill up from the table and put it in their own mouth. If they need assistance getting the glass to their mouth, gently provide that assistance. 

3. Consult with a care team 

Your loved one’s physician and pharmacist are valuable consultants for caregivers. If you think your loved one would be more accepting of medications at a different time of day, consult with these two professionals, and with their agreement to a time change, give the medications during that time. These two professionals should always be consulted for any changes such as dosages and times. 

4. Look for ways to simplify 

Consider other things that may be triggering the resistant behavior. Some people with Alzheimer’s get distressed at the sight of all the pill bottles. Are there a lot of pills and bottles? If so, take the pills out of their bottles only when needed, and leave the bottles out of sight. Some caregivers find success presenting only one pill at a time. 

5. Rethink the delivery method  

Are some pills large and hard to swallow? Again, upon consultation with the physician or pharmacist, and when possible, crush the pills that are crushable and mix with a food. Applesauce or yogurt can be good for this. Not all pills are crushable, so be sure to consult with the pharmacist or physician first. Some medications are available in liquid form. Check with the physician and consider that option. 

6. Join in 

If possible, take your medications together. Make it fun. 

7. Take a break 

When all else fails, and it sometimes will, set everything aside for a few minutes, allow time for calming down, and then return to the medication task in 10 to 15 minutes. 

Remember that behaviors will change over time, and what works for one period may need to be revised as the disease progresses. 

Caring for the caregiver 

As a caregiver, you know the rewards and the burdens of caregiving. Not enough can be said for giving yourself the support and respite you need to successfully continue this journey as a caregiver.  

Consider joining a caregiver’s support group where you can meet regularly with other caregivers for mutual support, and to share tips, ideas and resources. It will remind you that you have others around you who understand your role as a caregiver. Do something that rejuvenates you. It is vital to your wellbeing, as well as that of your loved one with Alzheimer’s. 

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

The information provided here is a public service of BrightFocus Foundation and should not in any way substitute for personalized advice of a qualified healthcare professional; it is not intended to constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product, therapy, or resources mentioned or listed in this article. All medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. Also, although we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the posted information reflects the most up-to-date research.     

These articles do not imply an endorsement of BrightFocus by the author or their institution, nor do they imply an endorsement of the institution or author by BrightFocus. Some of the content may be adapted from other sources, which will be clearly identified within the article. 

Help find a cure

Donate to help end Alzheimer's Disease

I would like to donate

Stay in touch

Receive Alzheimer's Disease research updates and inspiring stories