Multi-generational parenting is becoming more common, as the number of children living with grandparents—or receiving regular care from them—continues to rise. And according to reports, this generation of seniors is healthier, better educated, living longer and more financially secure than those of the past.
In other words, today's Nana and Granddad are ready for the job.
But, as shown in this report from Safe Kids Worldwide, when grandparents become more active in child care, it carries a safety concern: increasing kids' access to the grandparents’ medication and pills, and potentially serious cases of medication poisoning.
Safe Kids data shows that almost 64,000 emergency department (ED) visits in 2012 were related to a child swallowing medication not meant for her. That's an ED visit once every 8 minutes, for an accident that is completely avoidable.
These unintentional medicine poisonings are leading to more than pain and worry among families—about $34.4 million is spent every year treating improper medicine exposure in children.
"Safe storage of medications is the key to preventing these unintentional ingestions. Even a small dose of a cardiac [heart] drug or muscle relaxant (like valium) can have large effects because of a young child’s small size," says Lois Lee, MD, attending physician in Boston Children’s Hospital’s ED. "Grandparents—as well as parents—need to remember to keep these medications stored in a cabinet where children can’t reach them."
The report shows that 28 percent of grandparents who look after their grandkids on a daily basis keep their pills in a quick access container without childproofing features. What's more, many grandparents are leaving these easy-to-open containers in places that a curious child might be able to grab them.
Forty-two percent of those surveyed said it's not unusual for them to leave their prescription medicine around the house in places like the bathroom sink, kitchen counter or table. Twelve percent of grandparents who take care of their grandkids every day say their medication lives on a nightstand, which can be easily reached by a child who climbs up on the bed.
"With their small sizes, round shapes and bright colors, a lot of medications look like candy," says Lee. "A child who thinks there's a container of sweets on a nightstand or dresser might go to great lengths to get them."
To keep children safe from accidental medicine exposure, parents and grandparents should:
- Whenever possible, keep medication in containers with child-resistant caps.
- Keep all medicine in a high place, unreachable by children, which includes medicines taken every day. If a pill is taken multiple times per day, get in the habit of always returning the container to its normal resting spot, even between doses.
- Be cautious about all medical products, not just prescription drugs. Diaper rash remedies, vapor rubs, vitamins or eye drops may be over-the-counter items, but they can cause serious harm to children.
- If you are caring for a child outside of your home and carry medication in a purse or bag, find a safe storage spot for it outside the reach of children. A clasp or zipper IS NOT enough to deter a curious child.
- Program the local number for poison control into your phone. If there is no local number, the nationwide Poison Help Number is 1-800-222-1222.