Medication Reminder Ideas that Work

March 3, 2021

Medication Reminder Ideas that Work

The stats are staggering: 50% of prescribed medications aren’t taken as directed, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, leading to a death every four minutes.

Care teams can do everything in their power to ensure the right mix of therapies for an older patient, yet forgetfulness can sabotage a drug’s effectiveness or even increase risk of bad reactions. There are certainly other reasons that lead to non-compliance, like costs and plain old stubbornness—this post will explore structured reminders that can chip away at all the reasons.

We’re going to break down some of the best tools and tricks to help you find the best fit for older adults who might be struggling to stay on therapy. Keep in mind that a mix-and-match approach with more than one strategy could be the best solution for a particular individual. The point is to recognize that there are a lot of options out there, and some reminder strategies are much more appropriate for certain drugs or patient situations than others.

Low Cost, Low Tech Strategies

  • Phone Dates: Family caregivers can take turns to call mom or dad for a chat at the times when meds should be taken. Medication adherence isn’t the primary topic of conversation; rather, use this time to chat about regular day-to-day stuff while staying with them on the line as they take medications. These days, older adults might be craving the company, and wrapping it around a nonchalant touch base makes taking meds far less of a chore.
  • Signage: Don’t underestimate the power of the sticky note! Especially for those who might only need to take one medication once or twice per day, a simple colorful reminder on the bathroom mirror might be just enough to keep them on track.
  • Visual Cues: Another tried and true method is to flip the pill bottle over after taking the medication as a reminder later that you know it’s been taken. This method is great for folks who need less oversight or have only one or two pills to remember.
  • Home Design: How can the furniture and décor layout help avoid “out of sight, out of mind” with medications? Observe the morning and evening foot traffic. Can you place the pill box next to the coffee maker? Consider a floating shelf where medications are in the open instead of a closed medicine cabinet. How about rearranging the living room so that moving from the sofa or chairs to the bathroom/bedroom requires a close encounter with a light-up alarm clock?

Pharmacy and Manufacturer Programs

  • Packaging Upgrade: Pharmacies might have more than one option available for medication packaging. Talk to the pharmacist about blister packaging or other options that make it easier to understand and track dosage.
  • Delivery Services: Did you know that 44 out of 100 prescriptions are never even picked up from the pharmacy? If transportation is a barrier to timely refills, check to see if the preferred pharmacy offers a free or low-cost delivery service.
  • Medication-Specific Support Programs: Certain drugs build in free support services like personalized treatment reminders from real humans, which is much more engaging than e-mails or push alerts on a mobile phone. Ask the physician or check the drug manufacturer’s patient/consumer website for details.

In-Home Gadgets and Technology

  • There’s an App for That: There’s a smorgasbord of mobile apps designed to help patients stay on therapy. For older adults and caregivers who love their devices, Medisafe Medication Management provides daily reminders, missed medication alerts and scheduling so that multiple family members can consolidate pillboxes to one place. To break up the mundane, users can choose from Darth Vader, Princess Elsa or Austin Powers to tell them it’s time for meds. Medisafe is free, and offers a premium version with greater functionality. Other apps that seem to be catching on with positive user reviews include MyTherapy Medication Reminder and Pill Reminder All in One.
  • High-Tech Pill Boxes: A step up from the standard pillbox with daily compartments, the Reizen Vibrating Five Alarm Pill Box vibrates in addition to ringing when it’s time to take meds, making it a great choice for those affected by hearing loss. The sleek interface makes it easy to program and the large LCD display is backlit for evening use. Similar to the array of apps available, there are a plethora of pill box options on the market. When shopping around, take a look at customer reviews to find potential red flags.
  • Robot Companions: That’s right, robots! Aging-in-place researchers have been exploring the use of robotics to support independence for some time now. ElliQ from Intuition Robotics is a social robot billed as a “dedicated sidekick” specifically for older adults. It not only features medication and other health reminders, but also interactive discussion, wellness programming and cognitive games. The device is meant to be placed on a side table offering a presence like any other friend or companion. 

Find the Right Combo

It may take some trial and error to land on the right strategy or mix of reminders. Check with the healthcare team; they might have a preference or recommendation based on the individual’s unique case or mix of prescriptions. And let’s be honest, for some individuals, rearranging the furniture or setting up an app that seems like a great idea might actually make things even more confusing and work against the goal.

What matters is that reducing the dread and inconvenience associated with medications and help older adults embrace a day-to-day routine that includes medications that keep them healthy and independent for years to come.


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