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Brush up on your math to prevent medication misuse

If math isn’t your strong suit, you’re definitely not alone. Many a parent has been caught counting on their fingers or questioning accuracy of their mental math in the grocery store. Turns out, poor math skills may be more than a glaring educational gap.

mom giving cough syrup to baby

According to the American Association of Pediatrics, parents who struggle with math may be giving kids the wrong medicine dosage more often than expected. How can an arithmetic-challenged parent be sure his or her child is getting the proper dosage?

Unavoidable math

Plenty of us walked away from our last math final in high school or college thinking, “I will never do math again!” Then, we became parents and the necessity of math became glaringly obvious, as demonstrated in the aforementioned study. “This study shows that the many parents who have challenges with numbers and math are much more likely to provide their children with an incorrect dose of medicine,” says Lee M. Pachter, D.O., chief of general pediatrics at St. Christopher’s Hospital in Philadelphia and professor of pediatrics at the Drexel University College of Medicine. “Since most medicine prescriptions for children are based on the child’s weight, different kids will need different amounts of medicine, and therefore a comfort with numbers and math is essential for providing the correct amount of a medicine to a child.”

Read about 5 tips to overcome the fear of math >>

Numbers don’t lie

If you struggle with math and have been avoiding the issue, maintaining your child’s health may be the motivation you need to brush up on your number sense. “The instructions on a prescription always include numbers, such as how many milliliters, ounces, teaspoons, etc. for each dose, as well as how many times a day the medicine should be taken, or how many hours between doses,” says Dr. Pachter. “If a caregiver does not have a good understanding of numbers or math, the child may get an amount of medicine that either is inadequate to treat the condition, or on the other hand, may get an amount that could be an overdose and cause significant problems and maybe even death.”

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Avoiding mistakes

Fuzzy math skills can lead to a more serious outcome than just a solid “C” in a pre-algebra class. Dr. Pachter provides the following tips to help number-challenged parents take extra precautions when medicating children:

  • Make sure you understand how much medicine to give before leaving the doctor’s office.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist to provide you with a measuring cup or medicine syringe that has the level of medicine your child needs marked by either colorful tape or a marker.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to show you how much medicine to give, and how often.
  • When giving medicine at home, have a friend or family member double check the amount of medicine you poured out to make sure it’s correct.

Ultimately, it seems the time has come to face the results of years of neglected practical math skills. Remember all of those teachers who told you that “math is everywhere”? Turns out, they were right.

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