Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Pill dispensers

It's all too easy to forget to take medicines and it's easy to get confused if you have a lot to take at different times. A World Health Organization survey found that half of people who took medicines long term took them incorrectly. Our information looks at the different ways of getting round this problem and at some gadgets designed to help. We carried out some consumer tests of products - click on test reports below.

Tabtime pill dispenser

Download the complete guide here: Take your medicine - a guide to pill boxes, dispensers and reminders (PDF).

Acknowledgements: We are grateful to the Department of Health for funding this research, and to the  Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in the Community, the College of Occupational Therapists, the Disabled Living Foundation, and Professor DK Theo Raynor (University of Leeds) for help and advice. Evaluation and testing was carried out by: Gill Barwood, Di Hewetson, Gareth Peters, Karen Rix, Janet Stoneham and Maggie Winchcombe. Lab testing was carried out at Intertek, Milton Keynes.

Confused by all of your medicines?

If you're having problems remembering your medicines, or getting confused about which ones to take when, there are some simple things you can try. It might be a good idea to try some of the ideas listed below before you buy any kind of memory aid.

If you do decide that you need further help, look at out memory aid test reports to see which type of pill box, alarm system or automatic pill dispenser might best suit you.

Talk to your doctor - If you have a lot of medicines to take, at different times, and it's getting confusing, try talking to your doctor. They might be able to change your prescription to make things simpler.

Make a chart - Make a chart with the names of your medicines, the dose and when you take them. If you get confused, you can look at your chart. It might help to add a description of each medicine.

Get a pill box - If you have a daily pill box, you can sort out your medicines every day, or get someone to do it for you. Then you won't get them muddled up. If you can't get help every day, you might need a weekly pill box. With a weekly pill box, someone can sort out your medicines in advance.

Can't get the lid off your pills?

Get a gadget - You can get gadgets to help with opening bottles. You can even get one to help push your pills out of a blister pack. Ask your chemist, look in a local mobility shop, or search online - you can use our list of memory aid suppliers to get started.

Ask a friend - Perhaps you can get someone to get your medicines out for you. This is easy if they live close by, or if you don't have many medicines to take.

Get a pill box - If you can only get help once a day, or less often, and you take a lot of medicines, you might need to get a pill box. Then someone can get the pills out for you, and pop them in the box to keep them in order.

Keep forgetting to take your medicine?

Get into a routine - It's easier to remember things if you do them at the same time every day. You could:

  • Keep your pills next to your toothbrush and take them just before you brush your teeth in the morning.
  • Keep them in the kitchen and take them when you are getting your lunch in the afternoon.
  • Put them on the telly and take them when you are watching your favourite programme in the evening.

Leave yourself a note - Write a reminder on a card or a Post-it note and leave it where you're likely to see it when it's time for your medicine - for example, on the fridge or the bathroom mirror.

Ask someone to help you - Perhaps a friend, relative or neighbour could pop round or give you a ring to check you've taken your medicine. Or if you have a helper who comes round regularly, they may be able to help.

Set an alarm - You can use an alarm clock to remind you. If you've got a mobile phone or use a computer, you can set it to give you a reminder more than once a day.

Choose an alarm system - You can get specially designed alarm systems that can be set to go off several times a day. Some of these will even give you a written or spoken message.

Go for telecare - If you need someone to check you have taken your medicines, and there's no one on hand, a telecare system might help.

Out and about?

Get a pill box - A simple pill box can be useful if you're going to be out and about during the day. They are small and light, and can be slipped into your bag or pocket.

Safety tips for pills and medicine

  • Keep pills and pill boxes away from children - Many of the gadgets described in this guide may be attractive to young children because they ring bells or speak messages, or because of their bright colours. Make sure your medicine doesn't get into the wrong hands.
  • Keep your record cards up to date - Some pill boxes come with record cards, which are used to note down what medicines you take when. This information is really important if you go into hospital, change your doctor or need to give someone details of what medicines you are taking.
  • Make sure you know what to do if you miss a dose - Usually the right thing to do is to carry on with the next dose when it is due - don't take a double dose - but this may be different for some kinds of medicine. Check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Download this informtion as a complete guide here: Take your medicine - a guide to pill boxes, dispensers and reminders (PDF).

Last updated: June 2016


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