By Michelle Seitzer
Across America, 87 percent of older adults (ages 62-85) living at home take at least one prescription medication, while 36 percent take five or more, as reported in an April 2016 JAMA Internal Medicine magazine article.
For the latter group, the standard 7-day pillbox just doesn't cut it.
The timing, dosage, duration, and form of each drug is far from standardized: A red pill every other night for two months straight, two teaspoons of the pink liquid every afternoon for five days, the blue liquigels and tiny yellow tablets taken with food and drink daily for life. Besides these "mind-boggling regimens," per Cori Carl, Director of The Caregiver Space, each person's healthcare issues, personal beliefs, and chemical makeup create nuances around the if, how, and when medications should be ingested, and reactions to certain drugs can be unpredictable at best.
Medication management is, in a word, complex.
Multiple Solutions for the Medication Management Conundrum
Compliance further complicates things. According to Carl, trying to untangle what's behind non-compliance is one of the reasons so many medication management apps and platforms have been developed. But as each individual has unique needs, having multiple options affords a better chance of finding a solution that fits your family's caregiving situation best, she says.
And money isn't the sole motivator behind the influx of med management products and services. "The majority of apps being developed are coming out of personal experience," says Carl. For example, Reminder Rosie's design was inspired by the creator's father, who suffered from dementia, per Emma Gilsanz, who runs Boomly, an eCommerce site selling design-oriented products for boomers and beyond.
Another key aspect of medication management is letting people take—or keep—control of their health, says Carl. If a caregiver gets a notification to check in only when a dosage is missed rather than calling (read: nagging) multiple times a day, it's a win. "If an app allows an individual to manage on their own for longer, that's really important," says Carl.
5 Tech Tools for Managing Medications
Reminder Rosie This voice-controlled personal reminder system allows you to record spoken alarms that remind you or another person about an important task (like taking medication, or going to an appointment).
Because it's completely voice-activated, Reminder Rosie "is super easy to set up and can be used right out of the box," says Emma Gilsanz. "It also can be heard within a radius of 100 feet, and turns off once someone says 'reminder off' or pushes down on the big button." In addition to a plug, Reminder Rosie also has battery back-up, so caregivers can rest assured during power outages.
The voice activation feature is especially helpful for those with dementia, memory loss, visual impairment, and arthritis or other hand weaknesses because they receive personalized messages from familiar voices, which is much more calming and comforting than a robotic, automated voice, Gilsanz says.
"Reminder Rosie allows caregivers to worry less about minute details and focus more on big-picture caregiving. It is especially useful for times when the caregiver is unable to be present to help the older adult take their medications," says Gilsanz.
PillPack Goodbye, trips to the pharmacy: A tailored-to-you home medication system, PillPack pre-sorts and packages all your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications by the dose and sends them to your front door (don't worry if you're not home when the package arrives; the boxes are secure and unmarked to prevent theft and tampering). Each dose is labeled with the date and time it must be taken. As-needed meds are sent in a separate bottle, along with inhalers, creams, and refrigerated items like insulin.
Karate Health An exciting new platform on the market is Karate Health, and while it's focused primarily on those living with lupus and other autoimmune diseases, founder Brett Adelman is optimistic about expansion. Its social community feature is a major perk, allowing people to ask medication and disease-management related questions—and get answers, tips, and strategies—in real-time. The community is also tied to an educational repository and resource site, LupusCorner.com, which is updated regularly and connected to clinically relevant science.
MedCoach Have a smart phone? GreatCall offers a free medication reminder and tracking app called MedCoach medication reminder service that allows you to easily follow your prescribed medication and vitamin schedule with friendly reminder messages delivered directly to your phone. The service can also connect you to your pharmacy for prescription refills.
Sagely SMART Weekly Pill Organizer Available on Boomly, the Sagely SMART Weekly Pill Organizer is a new pill box designed with senior-friendly features (easy-to-open flexible lids, bright color coding, large font for days of the week, etc.) and comes with a free medication management app for smartphones.
Your Smartphone Look no further than your Android, iPhone, or Jitterbug smartphone to set up an unlimited number of recurring alarms and reminders.
You've got the tools, now get the tips. Read 3 Tips for Better Medication Management.