Chronic disease management frequently involves the patient requiring more than one daily prescribed medication. According to medical research findings in Patient Preference and Adherence, heart failure patients after hospital discharge are typically prescribed eight drugs for long-term use. For adults living with Type-2 diabetes, five is the average number of daily medications utilized. Among senior-aged adults with early (or later-stage) dementia, differentiating between different daily drugs so as not to take them at the wrong time each day can be difficult. Since many adults also take daily vitamins and/or naturopathic supplements, confusion as to which pill is which can lead to a preventable mix-up that worsens overall health. 

Managing medications with pill boxes: Why this is not a solution

Placing pills in a plastic box with plastic dividers denoted for each day of the week is the usual way that senior-aged people have kept track of their daily medications (with one of each prescribed drug placed in a separate compartment for that day). The problem is that the pill needs to be placed correctly in the pill box for this manual system to work (and most pill boxes do not enable the person to remember what time of day is correct for taking that pill). Meanwhile, around one-third of all senior-aged adults lives alone, so there is often nobody else in the home to quickly notice if that senior placed the wrong medications in the pill box. Additionally, 40% of adults aged 65+ have some short-term memory impairment. 

Study findings published in Health Services Research showed that each additional drug taken daily by an elderly person can increase the risk for a visit to a hospital Emergency Room (ER) by 4% (and hospitalization by 3%) specifically due to mistakes related to multiple medication use. Therefore, an increased focus on utilizing technology to aid medication management has occurred over the past decade, with automated phone calls from home healthcare providers’ offices as an early technology-driven method. 

Phone apps, videoconferencing, and technology

The frequent use by senior-aged people of face-to-face videoconferencing with healthcare providers has increased as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, and resultant from fear of Covid-19 infection due to close proximity to others in a healthcare setting. In addition, 50% of all adults aged 65+ (and 73% of all adults aged 50-64) used social media regularly as of 2021 – so comfort with using an app on a computerized device has hugely increased among older-aged adults. Consequently, many software development companies have focused at least some attention on designing technological ways that can enable senior-aged adults to better manage medications.  

There are diverse phone apps that can be utilized alone – or in combination with – other technological methods for aiding seniors to keep track of what they are taking each day to improve health. Besides reminders to take the drug at a specific time, these can include all or some of the following medication adherence aids: 

  • Health education (such as explaining why the medication is needed, as well as the risks to health of not taking the medication as prescribed). 
  • Medication side effects and drug interactions (such as explaining possible side effects of each prescribed medication, and the possible drug interactions between them) and what to do if experiencing a medication-related symptom. 
  • Display of an enlarged photo of the medication (as a visual reminder of that specific pill, so that a person with memory impairment can distinguish one pill from another in order to utilize the correct one). 
  • Capacity to ask questions and receive answers (either from a chat bot or a healthcare provider in “real-time”) regarding medications. 
  • Ability to enable designated loved ones to receive the same health information provided to the senior-aged adult living at home (which can be vital for a dementia-afflicted person to remain living independently at home). 
  • Online interactions with healthcare providers and home health agency clinical staff regarding physical and mental health issues inclusive of medication discussions.

Not only can apps and other technological approaches aid senior-aged adults in taking the medications (plus daily vitamins and supplements), it can also aid healthcare clinicians to understand the medication adherence issues affecting their patients in order to better address them. 

Age-appropriate solutions for medication management

The majority of senior-aged adults have eyesight problems, with 12% of those aged 65-74 (and 15% of those aged 75 and above) afflicted with total vision loss. Moreover, 4% of community-dwelling adults aged 65+ have both vision and cognitive impairments (such as short-term memory loss). Thus, pressing keys on SmartPhones and reading tiny print on small digital screens can be frustrating and error-prone for elderly people. Due to this reality, cell phones specifically designed for senior-aged adults were developed (such as the Jitterbug in 2006) that have larger-than-normal screens and simpler user interfaces. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that the foremost causes of vision problems in adults aged 40+ are cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. While voice-activated SmartPhone commands can be helpful for severely visually-impaired people, these are not always sufficient to enable acquisition of appropriate online information regarding medication side effects or drug interactions. The capacity to talk to a clinician about a medication if anxious about the correct dosage, a drug side effect, or any other medication issue is preferable.  

Recently, there have been a wide variety of apps and other technological solutions developed that are geared to medication management. Some include various aspects of patient monitoring (such as glucose or sleep apnea monitoring) aimed at home-based seniors. Yet others are geared to the management of a specific chronic health disorder (such as diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease), while some others are useful to seniors with a broad range of health issues.  

For technological solutions to function as intended, Internet connectivity is necessary – and some people in rural geographic areas in the US still do not have the capacity to connect to the Internet from their homes. Nearly 25% of all people residing in rural areas in the US lack still access to fixed broadband service (per the Federal Communications Commission). Anyone considering the purchase of a technological device for medication management (or recommending it to a senior-aged person) does need to make sure that Internet connectivity is available prior to the actual need to utilize the device. 

The Ōmcare Home Health Hub® can assist with medication management, plus has many other features that can aid senior-aged people to remain healthy.