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Automatic Pill Dispensers: A Key to Senior Wellness?

Remembering to take your medications as prescribed is an important part of managing many chronic health conditions. Unfortunately, many older adults have challenges managing their medicines due to physical and cognitive limitations, and poor medication adherence can lead to negative health outcomes. Several strategies can be implemented to help older adults better remember to take their pills. This article will explore the role of automatic pill dispensers in helping older adults to manage their medications.

Importance of medication adherence for aging adults

Older adults often have multiple medical conditions and may take many medicines. It’s important for them to take their medications as prescribed to prevent unintended hospital admissions and emergency room visits. However, the ability of seniors to effectively manage their medications depends on many different factors. Things that may negatively impact medication adherence include trouble opening medication packaging, dexterity issues, cognitive impairment (dementia and Alzheimer’s), polypharmacy, and the complexity of the medication regimen.

Many seniors have tried a variety of systems to help manage their medications, such as pill organizers and notating marks on their pill bottles. More recently, electronic medication adherence products such as automatic pill dispensers for seniors have been used to improve medication management.

Automatic pill dispensers for the elderly

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Automatic pill dispensers can be a good option for managing and organizing pills. After entering your medication information and the dispenser is set up, the correct medications will be dispensed at the scheduled time. This can be useful for individuals with cognitive impairment who also live alone.

How can automatic pill dispensers benefit seniors with medication management?

Automatic pill dispensers have many benefits for medication management. Common senior-friendly safety features found among dispensers are listed below.

  • Medication storage and dispensing. Most dispensers have a large pill capacity and can typically store up to 28 days’ worth of medication. They may also automatically dispense pills up to 4 times a day.
  • Medication tracking and dose accuracy. Mobile applications can track medication adherence. When programmed correctly, the correct dose of medication will be administered to the patient each time.
  • Alarms and notifications. Many devices contain alarms that remind you to take your medication. When considering devices, you may want to consider a pill dispenser with an alarm for the elderly. You may also see a flashing light letting you know that it is time to take your medications.
  • Security. Several dispensers contain a locking feature that only allows access to medication when it’s due. You should also be mindful of pill dispensers that require a passcode to access medications. The use of a passcode may not be ideal for individuals who have trouble remembering to take their medications.
  • Locking capability. Some devices contain features that restrict access to medications. To access the medication, you may have to use a key or enter a passcode or personal identification number. While this can enhance medication safety and security, it may make it harder for people with dexterity or cognitive impairments who live alone to use it.
  • Portability. Portability is an important feature to consider for individuals with active lifestyles. If you travel frequently, you may want a dispenser that is lightweight, smaller, and easy to carry around.

Considerations for choosing an automatic pill dispenser for seniors

When choosing the right automatic pill dispenser for seniors, there are various factors you should think about. Here are some key factors when selecting the ideal device:

  • Fill and refill. Medications must be added to the dispenser accurately to work properly. Senior adults may want to consider seeking the help of a close friend, relative, or pharmacist to ensure the device is filled correctly.
  • Mobile phone. Some devices may require the use of a mobile phone for the user to receive the full benefit. A mobile application associated with the device can assist with tracking medication adherence. One of the benefits of using a mobile application is that real-time monitoring can be provided to healthcare providers and caregivers via the application.
  • Batteries. Many pill dispensers require batteries. The status of the battery should be routinely checked and promptly changed when required. Physical limitations such as arthritis may impair a user’s ability to change batteries. It will be helpful to have a caregiver to assist.
  • Usability. It’s important to have a device that's user-friendly. Many pill dispensers will have large display screens and buttons that are easy to read. This can be helpful for those with visual impairments. Be sure to select the right dispenser for your needs.

Cost-effectiveness of automatic pill dispensers

Automatic pill dispensers can be costly initially, with some priced at several hundred dollars. Additionally, certain products may require a subscription and charge a monthly fee for services. However, over time, this investment can lead to cost savings by improving health outcomes through better medication adherence and reducing medication errors by streamlining medication management.

Medication safety in conjunction with automatic pill dispensers

While automatic pill dispensers can help you better manage your medications, these devices are not able to store all dosage forms of medications. Medications such as liquids and items that may require refrigeration typically cannot be stored in these devices. There are other safety precautions that you should take to ensure medication safety for yourself and others.

  • Maintain a medication list. Create a list of all your medications, including vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medications. Be sure to list the name, dose, and instructions of each medication. Keep a copy at home and one in your wallet or purse to share with your healthcare providers.
  • Watch for expired medications. Be sure to check your bottles for the expiration date. Do not take expired medications, as this can lead to unintended adverse effects. Follow up with your provider about refills before you run out of medications.
  • Security. Automatic pill dispensers can help keep your medications safe and secure. They have features to prevent children, pets, and other unauthorized individuals from accessing your medicines. Additionally, be sure to keep your dispenser out of reach of children and pets. While the automatic pill dispenser can prevent them from accessing your medications, it is not safe for them to tamper with the device. If you do not store medications in your pill dispenser, be sure to store them in a locked cabinet or drawer.
  • Medication disposal. Once your medications expire, you should discard any remaining pills as soon as possible. This will help ensure that you or others do not accidentally take the medications. You can check with your healthcare provider or local pharmacy for more information about how to properly dispose of your medications.
  • Medication adjustments. If your provider changes the dose of your medication, you will need to reprogram your automatic pill dispenser for that medication to accurately reflect the change. For instance, if your doctor increases your medication from once daily to twice daily, this adjustment needs to be updated in the dispenser and you will need to add additional pills to avoid missing a dose. It's also important to note that medications that are not taken consistently at the same times every day are not suitable for an automatic pill dispenser. For example, any medication that is taken on an "as needed" basis or requires other daily dose adjustments would not be suitable for an automatic pill dispenser.

The use of automatic medication dispensers for the elderly can be an effective solution to help them manage and store medications. As the aging population continues to increase, the demand for effective strategies will continue to grow. One state within the U.S. has a program in place to provide automatic pill dispensers to eligible older adults. The Illinois Department on Aging provides devices to individuals who are citizens of the United States, live in Illinois, and are at least 60 years old.

There are also other criteria to meet as well, and more information can be found by visiting the Illinois Department on Aging site. If you have trouble remembering to take your medication, speak with your pharmacist or healthcare provider to determine if an automatic pill dispenser is right for you.


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