As people grow older, two conflicting trends often work simultaneously. One, the senior will develop ailments, some serious, that require medication. Missing medication can have dire consequences. Two, the same senior will gradually become less alert and more forgetful, tending to miss taking medication. If the senior continues to live independently, without someone on hand every day to dispense medication, real problems can develop.
Weekly Organizer for Medication
A growing variety of devices are now on the market to help seniors remember to take their medication. The standard medication organizing device is the seven-day pill organizer — a plastic tray with latchable compartments for storing pills, each compartment representing a day of the week, or a time of a day of the week in more elaborate devices. One has to refill the organizer once a week with the coming week’s medications — each compartment big enough to hold an assortment of tables, capsules, and lozenges — and then keep it somewhere handy. Unfortunately, it’s just as easy to forget to take pills presorted in an organizer as it is to forget to take pills from a prescription bottle. Newer versions of these organizers come with multiple alarms that can be set for several times each day. A forgetful senior will certainly have a neighbor or family member coming by at least once a week, and the visitor can ensure that the pill organizer is refreshed and the alarm status confirmed.
There are various other alarm devices that can sound alarms at several programmed times each day. These devices are inexpensive, long lasting, small and unobtrusive, and simple to operate. If the senior is hard of hearing, some devices are designed to be carried, sending out vibrations similar to those of cell phones. However, if they run on batteries, batteries can die out; and if they plug into a wall socket, the power can go out, or the device can inadvertently become unplugged. Entering a complex series of programmed alarms for each day can be complicated, and if the patient misses a pill, there’s no capacity for follow-up; the alarm will just continue ringing, or not, in cases of power failure.
Similarly, there are various software products that are designed to alert seniors that it’s time to take a pill. Usually, once the program is set up, it will send an alert, perhaps as an email or pop-up window, along with a noise through the computer’s speaker. This is another low-cost solution, and works best for someone who’s on the computer for long stretches at a time each day. However, it might not work for elderly seniors; the computer needs to be left on all day for the software to be effective, and if it’s seldom used, it will drain electricity. Like alarms, a computer relies on a steady supply of power, but it’s also subject to virus attacks, malware, and inexplicable crashes, any of which could disable the software. And the audible alarm might not be loud enough to be heard in another room, especially if the user turns down the speaker volume for some other reason.
There are also several phone-based reminder services that operate like wake-up calls at a hotel. Simply provide the service with your pill schedule, and you’ll get a call — with an automatic recording at the other end — telling you that it’s time to take your pills. Some services can send text messages to a cell phone as well. These systems are foolproof, and not dependent on nonstop electrical or battery power. There’s no setup involved, and no new equipment to buy. However, they can be expensive; if you choose to receive text messages or receive calls to a cell phone, you might be charge individually for each message or call. They can be intrusive — you may be getting several calls a day, sometimes during meals or bath time.
More Elaborate Monitoring Systems
For seniors with more extensive health care needs who wish to continue living independently, a variety of more elaborate monitoring systems are available. With some plans, the monitoring service may install various peripheral devices in a home that measure heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, weight, glucose levels, and more. Over the phone, a monitor will talk a senior through the procedure as needed — often on a daily basis — and the results are then transmitted to a doctor’s office for interpretation. Such a service is expensive, but it can effectively replace frequent visits to a doctor’s office, saving at least some costs. And certain insurance plans may pick up the tab.
Whatever your needs — whether a device to remind you to take your pill or a service that enables you to monitor your vital signs at home — there is a solution on the market, or there will be one soon.