When parents drop their children off at grandma’s house, they expect their children to be safe. However, they may be at risk for poisoning by grandma’s medications or household cleaning products. Many senior citizens take several types of medications that can be a hazard to their visiting loved ones. In fact, 58% of poisoning cases each year involve children twelve years old or younger.
Since many seniors leave their medications in an easy-to-reach, visible place, children have easy access to these medications. Grandparents may leave pill containers out as a reminder, however, they may not be moved before children arrive. Easy-open bottles are frequently given to seniors to accommodate arthritic hands, making them easy for children to open. Medications spark the curiosity of a child due to their color or shape resembling candy. For example, a Nexium® capsule looks nearly identical to a purple Mike and Ike®. Household cleaning products pose another danger since they are typically stored under the sink or in a cabinet at eye level for easy access. Cleaning products are usually manufactured in appealing colors, causing children to mistake them for beverages.
Grandparents may not be aware of dangerous products in their house while watching grandkids, but this can be corrected. Patients can be educated on safe storage practices such as keeping their medication in a child-safe, properly labeled container that is placed out of reach from children. Grandparents may not have this option, so locking them in a child-safe cupboard when the children come over may be easier. Seniors should also dispose their unused medications in a safe way, such as at a drug take-back day, to reduce the likeliness of a child obtaining a medication.
Mr. Yuk™ is a helpful tool to help prevent accidental ingestions in children. By placing Mr. Yuk on potentially harmful substances, such as cleaning products, it serves as a reminder for children to ask an adult before ingesting. It is also equally appropriate to place stickers on medications. By seeing a Mr. Yuk sticker on a bottle of vitamins, a child should know to stop and ask an adult first. It does not mean the vitamins are poisonous when used appropriately, but children should not take these on their own. Anything can be poisonous if not taken appropriately.
Pharmacists can play a part in reducing cases of poisonings. The University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy accomplishes this through outreach programs in the community where they have opportunities to educate seniors on poison prevention. For example, they have the opportunity to educate seniors on this topic while providing Medication-Therapy-Management (MTM) services at senior centers in the area through the Silver Scripts program. Another way to raise awareness could be providing poison prevention materials, such as Mr. Yuk™ stickers, at community pharmacies and outpatient clinics. Warning seniors who switch to easy-open caps and passing out Mr. Yuk™ stickers are simple interventions they can perform.
The week of March 20th was National Poison Prevention Week. As a result, sisters of Lambda Kappa Sigma Delta chapter visited Senior Care at UPMC Shadyside and the Benedum Geriatric Center throughout March to update waiting room bulletin boards with information on poison prevention among seniors.These activities brought awareness of poison prevention to seniors during March, however it is also a pharmacist’s responsibility to keep poison prevention in mind year round. As one of the most accessible healthcare professionals, pharmacists can intervene and prevent poisoning among seniors and their grandchildren.
For information on how to order Mr. Yuk supplies, visit www.mryuk1.com.
Your local poison center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to answer any additional questions and to address any poisoning concerns. Call 1800-222-1222 to be routed to a regional poison center.
Written by: Kristel Chatellier and Kara Ioannou
PharmD Candidates, Class of 2019
University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy