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Did you take your pills today?

New devices and services ensure medicines are taken on schedule

As people age, many find the list of medications they take grows longer–and, in some cases, their memory shorter or less reliable. Fortunately, new devices and services can assist people to take the right pills at the right time, enabling them to keep their independence longer and with less stress.

The most basic, low-tech option is wearing an alarm watch that can be programmed to beep or vibrate to remind the wearer when it’s time to take medication.

For folks who take combinations of pills at different times of the day, another option is a medication dispensing system with built-in alarms to remind the user when it’s time for the next dose. The proper pills are preloaded into compartments for the appropriate times of day (such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime) for each day of the week. When the time comes to take medicines, the alarm rings. The alarm repeats periodically until the user presses a button to acknowledge the pills have been taken.

These systems do require that someone reliable (a family member, friend, or medical professional hired from a home-health agency) load the proper pills into the dispenser ahead of time. This is a manual task in some models, while others use a programmable timer and a locking system to load the pills into the tray at the correct time.

For added peace of mind, some pill dispensing systems and services allow family members to monitor medication use from afar. Using built-in sensors, the dispenser sends notifications via phone or e-mail to family members to acknowledge that medicines have been taken—or to send a warning when a dose is skipped.

For an additional fee, some services will also place phone calls, or send text messages or e-mails to remind the user to take his or her medications on schedule; personal greetings and daily check-in calls are another option to make sure that the family member is okay.

Ask for blister packs

Here’s a low-tech solution that works well for steady medication doses with few changes of pills added in
or dropped out.

Ask your pharmacy if they will package medications in blister packs—instead of pill bottles—with all pills for a particular day and time placed in one clear plastic compartment. Test a sample first to be certain the person taking the pills doesn’t have any difficulty opening the plastic packaging.

Pharmacies may charge an additional fee for this service.

Details to make it work better

When considering a pill dispensing system, make sure the compartments are big enough to hold all the pills needed at a particular time of day.

If the user is hard of hearing, select a model with adjustable volume levels or even a flashing light.

Is it blue pill at breakfast, orange pill at bedtime, or the other way around? Is this Tuesday or Wednesday? To take the fumbling and confusion out of taking medicines at the proper time, special dispensing devices like the one shown above offer peace of mind for families.

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