Medication and Side Effects

If you work for an agency licensed by DBHDS, you will complete training and testing in the required Medication Administration Procedures before administering medications. This is a course approved by the Virginia Board of Nursing. The safe and accurate administration of medications is one of the most important duties you will perform as a DSP. Medication errors can cause great harm or even death. Therefore, it is essential that, when giving either prescription or over-the-counter medications, you follow the procedures and safeguards you will be taught in this required course.

Some people take multiple daily medications. All medications can have side effects – some of which can be harmful. Side effects may indicate that the medication dosage or type may need to change. In addition, people on more than one medication may experience symptoms related to the interactions of their medications.

As a DSP, you should become familiar with how medications affect the people you support. Side effects are sent by the dispensing pharmacy and are maintained in each person’s Medication Administration Record (MAR). In addition to the known side effects, the changes in daily behavior and patterns described above may be a sign of a negative drug reaction. Always report a concern.

Important Point

As someone who spends a lot of time with people using supports, you or your supervisor will ensure that the doctor has all the available information to decide if the prescribed medications are having the desired effect or a change is needed. It is a good practice to have all prescribed medications filled at one pharmacy to prevent the risk of a negative reaction between two different medications. Pharmacists can review all medications when a new medication is prescribed, since different doctors can prescribe medications for the same person.

Emergency Care

It is best that all staff receive training in First Aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) prior to supporting people alone. This will enable you to react appropriately and possibly to save someone’s life while medical care is on the way.

During a health or medical emergency (for example if a person stops breathing, has serious bleeding, becomes unconscious, or has other serious symptoms) be sure to follow your agencies emergency procedures including contacting administrative staff.

Important Point 

It goes without saying that any condition which would be considered an emergency if it happened to a member of your family is also an emergency if it occurs to a person you support. Call 911 at the first sign of a medical emergency!

Other Health Concerns

In addition to the potential for illness and injury, you may find yourself supporting people with ongoing health conditions including (but not limited to) seizures, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, sleep apnea, arthritis, heart disease, visual/hearing impairments, food/drug allergies, and concerns affecting their freedom of movement. All DSPs are responsible for being aware of and knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of the health conditions of those you support.

Each staff member should also be aware of mobility or freedom of movement issues. Information regarding these concerns should be available - along with ways to support someone who is at risk of falling in their daily routine. These supports should be included in the instructions as part of their Plan for Supports.

Important Point

It is essential that DSPs get to know the people they support. Being observant, responsive and attentive to medical needs is the key to assuring health, safety and a good quality of life.


Along with regular medical care and good nutrition, exercise is another important element for a healthy life. Many people have never experienced a regular exercise program. Though they may face some physical challenges, there are a variety of activities designed for older adults and people with disabilities.

Exercise can be fun and exciting. We all benefit from moving more, so explore physical activities the person enjoys doing and find ways to include in their daily routine.

Most major health organizations recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, using a combination of cardiovascular exercise (walking, swimming, and/or aerobics) and resistance exercise (weights). There are many ways to incorporate exercise into a daily routine that can be creative and interesting. Some ideas are:

  • Visit a nearby school and walk around the track.
  • Find a local park with walking trails and other attractions and do a combination of walking and sightseeing.
  • Plant and maintain a small garden.
  • Grocery shop (pushing the cart and reaching for items from shelves).
  • Join a gym and take classes or use the equipment.
  • Do household chores together while listening to music to keep moving.

Important Point

Always check with the person’s medical professional before starting an exercise program.