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No More Missed Meds

The latest alarm pill organizers and monitoring services help seniors get back on track.

By Julie Davis
Despite all the emphasis on the need for reform to our medical system and the fears seniors have about changes to their Medicare coverage, many Americans are unaware of one of the greatest threats to the wellbeing of the elderly: missed doses of prescription drugs. According to some researchers, only one third of seniors may be taking their medications as prescribed and another third may not be taking them at all, with the final third not taking them correctly. Often called the world’s “other drug problem", non-adherence to medication directives accounts for more than 10 percent of older adult hospital admissions and one out of four nursing home admissions.
Part of the problem is the number of drugs a senior may need to take and what could be a confusing mix of dose sizes and frequency. If one medication is needed twice a day while others are taken three times, if one dose of one drug is a single pill and the dose of another med is two pills, it’s easy to see how confusing it can be without good organization. However, more than confusing, it can be extremely dangerous. Many drugs are life-saving necessities, yet if a pharmacist or another healthcare provider hasn’t reviewed all prescription items you’re taking, you could be subjected to drug interactions can present a life-threatening set of problems.
"Only one third of seniors may be taking their medications as prescribed and another third may not be taking them at all, with the final third not taking them correctly."

To combat most of these issues and make taking medications—known as drug “compliance”—easier, a variety of organizers and systems have been developed. They offer a wide array of features, including services that pre-fill the pill box assortment, models that sound an alarm or visual aid when it’s time to take a dose, visual monitoring by a technician who watches the patient take the pills, emails or phone calls to alert patient, caregiver and/or family member if a dose has been forgotten or if the wrong dose was taken. The best option is the model or system that answers the needs of the individual.

Choices To Consider

The better pillbox organizer. A 1-week, 4-week or 31-day organizer with compartments for each dose needed on each day makes it easy for patient, caregiver or pharmacist to load once a month and eliminates the need to reach for an assortment of pill bottles numerous times a day. A simple 8-day pill organizer can be an inexpensive and helpful daily living aid. Basic models, like the Aculife One Week Plus Today Pill Box, are available for under $10.

Color-coding is a helpful feature, especially on monthly pill organizers. The MedCenter System Monthly Pill Organizer by MedCenter Systems, for instance, has 31 daily pill boxes with easy-open lids and four individual compartments for each day; red and green cap color coding shows when a daily dose has been taken.
The pill organizer with an alarm. When remembering to take pills is a problem, having an organizer that gives you an alarm or a visual reminder can help. Available for under $30, a unit like the Vitamin and Pill Organizer with Timer has both audio and video alerts that tell you when it’s time for medication. Another option, the Med-E-Lert Automatic Pill Dispenser with Alarm, has a blinking light and alarm tones won’t turn off until the unit is tilted and the pills for the given dose are removed; the unit has a lock that prevents tampering as well.
Prepackaged medication services. Companies offering this service coordinate all prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and even vitamins and deliver a supply of pills packaged in individual packets and marked for each dose of each day. Often arranged in a long, perforated strip in a container box, you simply pull the right packet off the dispenser strip. One such service is called the Daily Med.
Medication monitoring services. Sometimes the only way to be sure a loved one has taken their meds is to see it with your own eyes, but that’s impractical three or more times a day on a daily basis even if you live in the same home, much less if you live across the country. Fortunately, a variety of monitoring services has emerged recently to bring peace of mind and assure that pills are being taken on schedule. Many of these systems use wireless communication, the internet and/or telemonitoring to ascertain if medication was properly taken; they are usually subscription-based services with a monthly charge and possibly the upfront cost of the pill dispenser unit.
One example is the MedMinder System Inc. comprehensive compliance solution that helps patients take the right medicine at the right time and allows caregivers and family to monitor the patient’s medication activity. Called Maya, their intelligent pillbox is equipped with wireless technology—no computer or internet access is needed, and MedMinder can provide real time notifications and reminders to the patient, family and caregivers. The data collected by the system is accessible via the MedMinder web application and can be integrated with other clinical systems. A variety of features are available including patient reminders provided only if the meds are not taken on time using any combination of lights, beeps, phone alerts, emails and text messages; remote monitoring; immediate notifications to caregivers; and two easy ways to refill the unit every month, either manually or with a pre-filled tray. All you need is an electrical outlet and wireless coverage (if a cell phone would work in the patient’s home, Maya will work). Twelve-hour rechargeable batteries come installed in case of a power outage. You don’t need a computer, but if you do have one and can access the internet, you or a caregiver can use it to set up the medication schedule online.
Another choice is the MedSmart System from American Medical Alert Corp., a monitoring pill organizer that works with a landline and is available in both stand alone and “event reporting” versions. MedSmart’s docking base serves as the gateway for remote programming and event reporting. When connected to an active phone line, MedSmart transmits device and dispensing history to AMAC’s website, using a toll-free number, for review by authorized individuals. Through a personalized notification system, alerts can be sent to track adherence, address dosing errors and predict refill requirements. The system can provide immediate alerts of missed doses in multiple message formats: email, cell phone text message and automated telephone message as well as online access. To get set up, you program the Med Alarms from 1 to 6 times per day according to your dosage schedule. At each time, a flashing light and sound alert will remind you to take your pills, the tray will rotate, and your medication will be made available. Tip the unit to dispense your pills and the device is ready to dispense the next dose at the scheduled time. When the help/refill button is pressed, a signal is sent to the Data Center and a help notification is sent to the designated recipient.
With the right medication reminder system, missed or forgotten pills should be a thing of the past.