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Grandparents: Watch where you keep your medicines

For lots of grandparents, spending time with your grandchildren is the highlight of their day or week. If you happen to be one, then you know that keeping your beloved grandchildren safe and secure is always a top priority — after all, they love to play around and get into all sorts of things.

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Some things you must be wary of, though, are medications, whether they’re over-the-counter or prescription, particularly how and where you keep these pills. To that end, a recent survey discovered that many grandparents are not being too careful about this potential hazard.

The poll was initiated by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, together with Michigan Medicine (the university’s academic medical center) and the AARP. After interviewing 2,000 adults 50 to 80 years old, researchers found that many seniors may be putting their grandkids at risk for medicine poisoning.

According to 84% of the respondents, they keep their medicines in easily accessible places, such as inside cabinets, on countertops or in their purse — even when their grandchildren are over for a visit. Not only that, more often than not, the medicines are stored in easy-to-open containers.

For grandparents who visited their grandchildren, only a meager 7% stored their medications inside a locked cabinet. The majority of them, 72% to be exact, simply left their medicine inside their bag — but imagine what could happen if your grandchild rummages through your bag and ends up confusing the brightly colored pills for sweet treats!

Babies and toddlers are especially very curious — they love to explore, often putting anything that their hand touch straight into their mouths. And this curiosity can lead to disaster: In the U.S., 60,000 children are poisoned each year and treated in emergency rooms. Nearly 40% of these cases are caused by ingesting their grandparents’ medicines.

Older grandchildren may not be spared from similar incidents either, since having easy access to their grandparents’ opioid painkillers and sleep medicines may raise their chances of misusing them. 

When you consider that a growing number of grandparents are now living with, and providing care for their grandchildren, this survey shows how important it is to make a conscious effort to keep medicines out of reach and inaccessible.  

So, for doting grandparents who love spending time with your grandchildren, here are some commonsense precautions to avoid accidental medicine poisoning:

  1. Keep all medicine (including children's medicine) out of sight and inaccessible (meaning in a locked cabinet if necessary) when young children are around, even medicine you take every day.
  2. Put medicines out of children’s reach after every use, even if you’re tempted to keep it nearby between doses.
  3. Store your medicine in bottles with child-resistant caps. If this isn’t possible, store these containers up high and out of sight when caring for kids.
  4. If you live in the U.S., add the U.S. Poison Control number (1-800-222-1222) into your contacts. If your grandchild shows symptoms such as seizures, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, agitation and abdominal cramps, and you suspect they have accidentally ingested your medicines, seek medical attention immediately.

Dr. Preeti Malani, the poll’s director, adds, “Make sure you explain to [your grandchildren], and their parents or older siblings, that it’s important to stay away from your medicines — that those pills are for you and you alone … No matter how old your grandchildren are, you need to think about medication safety.”

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