Did I take my medication? Or did I just think about taking it? If you’ve ever been on a prescription, a round of antibiotics, or just tried to stick to a multivitamin, you know this feeling. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world to take your medications as they’re prescribed, but in reality it can be difficult, says Mike Gianino of Homewatch CareGivers, a nonmedical in-home care provider. “Think if you had 10 or 11 different ones,” he adds. “On your best day in the prime of your life, it would be hard to manage. Add 50 years, and it becomes impossible.”

    Not taking medicine as prescribed is one of the top reasons for hospitalization of older adults, with those over 65 twice as likely to make an emergency room visit because of ‘adverse drug events,’ according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Lutheran Senior Services provides a range of options for clients who need reminders, says Cathy Barton, director of living safe technologies for the company. LSS provides an automated pill dispenser, which gives the client audio and visual reminders. “It is very user-friendly, portable and can be customized,” she explains. The level of service can range from simply leasing the unit to bringing in a registered nurse weekly to set up the medications, and integrating a monitoring system, Barton notes, adding that the goal is to set up the system so that it fits the client’s pattern of living. The service also provides peace of mind for families who live out of town, says Barb Moran, LSS director of private duty in-home nurses. “The client is having a face-to-face encounter with a nurse on a regular basis. They can see things that the family might not pick up during a phone call.”

    Sometimes, a family will already have a system set up to help the client remember their medications, says registered nurse Patty Aufricht, director of services for By Your Side Home Care, which provides nonmedical in-home care. “If the system they have in place works, that’s the system we’ll go with,” she says. “If it’s not working, then we have recommendations we can make.” Sometimes a pill box with daily compartments works, she adds. “But if there are concerns about safety, then they might have to resort to other ways of managing medications.” The company’s clients use services ranging from telephone-based reminders and personal emergency response systems to electronic pill boxes. “If the senior is living alone and requires assistance, the ideal situation would be to have a caregiver in the home,” she notes.

    Gianino agrees that although electronic dispensers are effective for many people, “for us it’s having the right caregiver—and the same caregiver all the time—because you build that level of trust.” He says that problems with taking medications and eating properly are two primary reasons that families seek help. “They’ll notice that Mom’s not acting like herself, so they’ll start paying attention to her medications and find out she’s missing doses,” he says.

    Gianino says medication, nutrition and physical activity are three main priorities for health and quality of life, and that if one of those is neglected, it can start a downward spiral. “It’s in that pill box for a reason, so it’s got to be taken.”  LN