More than 65 percent of older adults take three or more prescription medications per day, and keeping track of it all can be stressful. Cognitive changes as we age—including dementia, mild cognitive impairment, side effects of medications or an illness, depression, and metabolic and/or endocrine problems—may cause an older adult to forget to take their pills or that they’ve already taken their dose.
Taking the right dose at the right time is important. To reduce or avoid difficulty with managing one’s medication, an individual can use the following adaptive strategies or devices to increase their safety and independence.
Create a schedule. At the start of each month or when a new pill is introduced, a weekly schedule in the form of a chart may be made listing all the medications at the correct times for each day. Create one daily chart if every day is the same. If more than one chart is necessary, consider using different colored markers to highlight the differences. If the individual is unable to complete this themselves, a caregiver, friend or family member may help.
Create and maintain a routine. Everyone benefits from good habits and routines. To avoid medication errors, create a routine for taking medications. For example, medications may all be stored in the same location and taken while seated at the dining room table. A healthy habit might be to take medications following a specific activity, such as after eating a meal, brushing teeth or before putting on pajamas.
Use an Rx Timer Cap. This device can be found online at rxtimercap.com at a price of two for $14.95. The timer cap counts down the hours and minutes since the container was last opened.
Use a talking alarm clock. This type of device may be set for up to four daily alarms that alert you when it is time to take your medication. I can be purchased at Sears for $33.91, on Amazon for $33.88, or at medcentersystems.com for $39.95.
Get a weekly or 31-day pill organizer. These organizers are usually a clear or light-colored plastic and can be purchased for under $10 at pharmacies and dollar stores. Organizers come in many different combinations so it is important to purchase one that matches the medication schedule. For example, if an older adult takes medication twice a day, a pill organizer with two rows for AM and PM might be the ideal model. The 31-day pill organizer allows you to organize pills for 31 days in separate, daily pill boxes. In each pill box there are four daily compartments: morning, noon, evening and bedtime. All of the daily boxes begin with the green side sticking up and the red side down. After the pills have been taken for the day, the daily boxes are to be placed with the red end visible. Amazon carries this MedCenter device for $33.96.
Use an automatic pill dispenser. This device will ensure that only the correct medicine is taken and be a helpful reminder to take pills, as well. The dispenser allows up to four daily doses to be scheduled for a month at a time and can be found at Sears for $74.95. Amazon also carries several versions of dispensers and the price varies depending on the type of features you would like. One option on Amazon is the LiveFine Automatic Pill Dispenser for $55.
The items above may improve the success of medication management for older adults and will provide the opportunity for adults to remain independent and confident in caring for themselves.
Occupational therapists help individuals do the things they want, need and are expected to do, like managing their medications. An occupational therapist can help you determine what adaptive equipment will be best in order for you to carry out your daily activities safely and independently. If you are experiencing difficulty with managing your medications or any other activities throughout your day, talk to your doctor about receiving a referral for occupational therapy.
By Kaitlyn Rankin, OTS
Master of Occupational Therapy Program
University of Pittsburgh
For Pittsburgh Senior News