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What Happened When We Changed My Mom's Pill Time to Earlier in the Day

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Editor’s note: The following is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before going on, off or altering medication.

I was sitting on a plane listening to one of my favorite podcasts on my way back from a friend’s wedding recently. I was by myself because my husband stayed behind to take care of Mom. Why? 1) Because he is amazing, 2) Because my family couldn’t make a schedule work to fly here and take over while we were both gone and 3) To be honest, it was just too expensive to get us both to this wedding, especially with two more on the docket for the year.

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On this podcast I was listening to, Radiolab, the hosts were speaking with a neurologist who referenced a study where researchers found judicial rulings were swayed greatly by extraneous factors like whether a judge had eaten recently or not. The point? Essentially that the brain grows weary, less neurons fire and decision-making and judgment are impaired when someone is tired and hungry.


It got me thinking, could this be happening with Mom?

Rewind a few months and and you would find me and the hubby begging Mom to open her mouth for a spoonful of applesauce, trying to get her attention and hold her gaze, encouraging her to swallow, rubbing her throat to help her swallow and giving her mouthfuls of water to wash everything down. We would get her to say words like “Hola” which tricked her into opening her mouth so we could get another spoonful in. Over a decade of brain damage from multiple sclerosis (MS) and epilepsy had left few pathways for her brain cells to communicate with her body successfully. What should take 30 seconds with her could end up taking 30 minutes.

We had been doing her nighttime pills at 7:00 p.m. for as long as I could remember, but for months now it was becoming the ultimate struggle. Mom could no longer be fed with a spoon – bottles only or small cups. No straws because of her dysphagia. And many times when we would be in the middle of the process, she would literally fall asleep and start snoring – mid-swallow, I kid you not!

So I have this lightbulb go off listening to this podcast. What if Mom’s brain functioning, which is already diminished, is simply at its wit’s end by 7:00 p.m. at night? What if we tried doing things a little earlier in the day when her brain isn’t so worn out? The next day I email her neurologist and ask if it is OK to move her nighttime pills up an hour to 6:00 p.m. instead (she takes mostly anti-convulsants, anxiety and vitamin pills at this time). They said that shouldn’t be a problem, so we went for it. Here’s what happened:

It worked. Pill time became exponentially faster – Mom was swallowing and drinking better, and she was much more alert and awake to take medicine.

Mom fell asleep more soundly. Before, our nighttime ritual felt like we were moving at a hundred miles a minute – we would start with the pill struggle, move to diaper change and then brush teeth, take vitals and say goodnight. It was a process that was exhausting and stimulating, not relaxing. Moving to doing pills earlier and giving Mom an hour to relax before bed to watch TV has helped her relax, fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly as far as we can tell.

We gained evening time. As full-time caregivers with jobs, my husband and I often find our meager evening hours consisting of feeding Mom and getting her in her wheelchair for an hour, chores, quick dinner, Skyping family, putting Mom to bed and then potentially errands or more work. Moving her pill time up an hour seems to have made our evening more relaxing as we’re not on this race to the clock, and we’re not experiencing this incredibly frustrating and pain-staking pill process anymore.

Why hadn’t I thought about this before? I ask myself this question from time to time, but that’s the thing about caregiving and guilt. We have to learn not to beat ourselves up when we try something and it works. Instead, we should just celebrate and keep questioning – what little things, tweaks, changes, modifications can we try to make life a little bit easier and better for our loved ones and ourselves? There is no silver bullet that’s going to magically make everything easier, but overtime, the little things will add up.

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Originally published: August 2, 2017
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