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Caregiving Video Guide: Administering Eye Drops, Suppositories and Transdermal Patches

Instructions for managing medications beyond pills


AARP Public Policy Institute and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC, Davis, have created series of videos that provide family caregivers simple, concrete instruction on performing a variety of health care tasks.

In this AARP Home Alone AllianceSM video, Angie trains her sister, Imani, on several of their mother’s caregiving tasks, including how to dispense eye drops, change skin patches and insert suppositories.

Providing Caregiving Instruction

  • If you’re a family caregiver, you need a break from time to time. You can teach another person how to take over.
  • Make sure you’ve had good instruction yourself. Ask a doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you’re unsure of any steps or details.
  • Recognize that someone new to the task may be uncomfortable or anxious.
  • Always wash your hands before doing any of these tasks. Use gloves to prevent medication from getting on your hands.

Eye drops

Eyes drops are used to treat many conditions, including glaucoma, dry eye, an infection or an allergy. Your health care provider will tell you which eye drops to use and how often to use them.

  • Reminder: Wash your hands before starting. 
  • Shake the bottle well before opening it, being careful not to touch the dropper tip.
  • Make sure you gently pull down the person’s lower lid, ask them to look up, and insert the correct number of drops directly in the eye, avoiding the pupil if possible because some people find that uncomfortable.
  • Don’t let the bottle touch the eye or eyelid.
  • Use a tissue to blot any extra liquid when you’re done.
  • Have the person close their eyes for two minutes or more.
  • If the person needs more than one type of eye drop, wait at least five minutes between drops.

The Safe Medications website, created by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), has step-by-step guides on using eye drops. Find more information at the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Transdermal patches

  • Transdermal (skin) patches provide a way to administer medications directly through the skin. There are different kinds of skin patches, including those used to help people stop smoking (nicotine patches), for motion sickness, a heart condition (angina), hormone treatments, and others. Patches containing fentanyl (an opiate) are used to treat pain at the end of life when the person is no longer able to swallow pills. Here are some tips to remember:
  • Make sure you understand the precautions to take when changing a skin patch. You may be instructed to apply the patch to the same area or rotate the patch among different skin areas.
  • When changing skin patches, make sure you wear gloves so the medication on the patch doesn’t get on your skin. Remove the old patch, fold it, and dispose of it carefully.
  • You can download step-by-step instructions for applying and disposing of a used skin patch from Safe Medication website (PDF).
  • If the person is using a fentanyl or other opioid patch, ask the prescriber about serious risks and precautions. The patches should be kept away from children, who might open the package and get the medication on their hands. More information is available from MedlinePlus.

Suppositories

Many people are familiar with rectal suppositories (those inserted in the rectum) to relieve constipation. But there are other kinds of suppositories (vaginal and urethral) and conditions for which suppositories may be prescribed. Often, suppositories are an option when a medication is hard to swallow. Ask the person’s health care provider why suppositories are needed and how often they should be inserted.

  • Inserting a suppository in another person can be stressful for both of you. Learning to do it so it becomes routine will help minimize embarrassment.  
  • Remove the suppository from packaging and apply lubricant to the suppository before you put on gloves.  
  • When inserting suppositories, make sure the person is comfortable lying on their side and insert the suppository into the rectum at least an inch.
  • For a step-by-step process, go to the Safe Medication website. Although the directions are intended for someone inserting a suppository in one’s own body, it’s easy to adapt the instructions to do this task for another person.

If you have questions about any of the techniques, ask a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or other health care professional for help.

Remember to take care of yourself as you help your family member. Find someone to talk to about your own feelings about handling this care. Look for support groups and message boards where people in similar situations share their experiences and suggestions. Remember, you are not alone!

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