For many seniors, taking medications is routine. But problems could arise if it is not part of a daily routine.
The World Health Organization says half of all adults do not take prescribed medications correctly, either because of overuse, underuse or misuse. That number is believed to be higher among seniors because nearly 30 percent of adults 65 and older take at least three prescription medications a day. So how can you successfully perform this juggling act?
"When people based their medications around an activity, they did pretty well," says Martha Sanders, a professor of occupational therapy at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. Sanders and Tracy Van Oss, also a professor of occupational therapy at Quinnipiac, recently completed a study where they observed 149 seniors who take four or more medications daily.
Sanders and Van Oss found that when seniors incorporated medications into parts of their daily routine, there were fewer missteps. For example, if you brush your teeth first thing in the morning, keeping medications near your toothbrush provides a visual cue. Or, for those who always begin their day with a cup of coffee, keeping pills near the coffee maker provides a prompt. "You see the coffee, and that reminds you to take your medication," Sanders says.
People who tied their medications to the clock instead of an activity were less successful. If you decide to set your pill-taking to a specific time, you have to keep an eye on the clock, which most people can't do consistently. But if you incorporate taking meds with an everyday activity like having lunch, Sanders says, you will remember to take your pills no matter what time you eat lunch.
While it may sound simple, connecting medications with an activity takes planning. You may decide to take medications with dinner, but dinnertime has several stages. "Are you going to do it before dinner, after dinner, after you clear the table?" Sanders says. "It really helps to get down to that level of detail."
Simple pillboxes organize medications, but you still must remember to take the pills. As for high-tech pillboxes with alarms and audio messages, Van Oss says most seniors in the study did fine without them. "As much as the bells and whistles are out there, the low tech -- keeping the pills in a cup or keeping them in their original containers in a basket -- were used the most," she says.
Sanders and Von Oss found another potential problem. When some seniors ran out of pills, they neglected to get refills. "We were surprised that for some people, getting the pills from the pharmacy was as big an issue as taking them every day," Sanders says.