By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) – Most grandparents don’t move medications to a safer location when grandkids come to visit, and most of them also keep pills in their bag or purse when they visit their grandchildren, a U.S. study suggests.

More than half of Americans ages 50 to 80 are grandparents, and most of them have at least one grandchild under age 10, according to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. Nearly all grandparents have medications in their homes including over-the-counter pills like aspirin as well as prescription drugs, vitamins and supplements.

“Many grandparents take multiple medications and may not think about where and how they are storing their medications – both when they visit grandchildren or when grandchildren come to visit them,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, director of the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

While 71% of grandparents keep prescriptions in original containers that may include tamper-proof features, the rest of them moved medicines to other containers or pill boxes that are easier to open, the poll found.

“Easy open containers that keep a whole week’s worth of medication organized can be very helpful for older adults but if left within reach of a young child, could result in dangerous side effects,” Malani said by email. “The large number of pills can increase risk and it might be harder to know what a child ingested if there are multiple types of medications in an organizer.”

People who do use pill organizers should keep them out of reach, Malani advised. And even when grandparents use the original drugstore containers, they should keep those in a safe place too because even tamper-resistant or child-proof bottles are often no match for curious kids.

Just 1 in 20 grandparents said they kept medications in locked cupboards or cabinets at home. Many of them did store drugs out of sight in unlocked cabinets, but 18% left pills out on a counter or table and 7% kept medicines in a purse or bag while they were at home.

When grandparents take medicines on visits to see their grandchildren, 72 percent of them keep pills in a bag or nurse, while 7% leave drugs out on the counter. Only 7% of grandparents locked pills away in a cupboard or cabinet.

The nationally representative online survey was administered to 2,051 randomly selected older adults in October 2018.

Researchers only asked about medication storage practices. They didn’t ask about overdoses or accidental exposures among grandchildren, and they didn’t assess how grandkids’ ages might impact medication storage. It’s possible people might be more careful with toddlers than with teenagers.

Kids of different ages will open pill bottles for different reasons, noted Dr. Gary Smith, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance in Columbus, Ohio.

“Young children are exposed through exploratory behavior, while teenagers are exposed through risk-taking,” Smith, who wasn’t involved in the poll, said by email.

Parents need make sure to store medications safely in their own homes, and they also need to speak to their own parents about safe storage, said David Schwebel, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who wasn’t involved in the study.

“It is sometimes awkward to tell your parents what to do, and it is often even more awkward to tell your parents-in-law,” Schwebel said by email. “But your children’s health is at stake, and it is worth the awkward request – it may save your child’s life.”

Grandparents and parents should also keep the number for poison control on or near their phone: 1-800-222-1222.

SOURCE: National Poll on Healthy Aging, online July 2, 2019.