Dementia is not one specific disease — it describes a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. It affects behaviour, thinking and the ability to perform everyday tasks, and brain function is affected enough to interfere with an individual’s normal working or social life. Behavioural changes can include agitation, confusion and loss of memory.

According to Dementia Australia, there are currently over 472,000 Australians living with dementia, and many of those are elderly. If you are a child or carer of an elderly person, your priority is their safety. But it can be concerning, particularly if you are not always with them to check on their well-being or you are moving parents to assisted living.

Along with healthy eating for seniors, it is also essential that their medications are managed correctly. But why are medication reminders important with those suffering from dementia, and what are some of the medication reminders for dementia patients?

Reasons for medication reminders

Non-adherence to medicines is common in patients with chronic disease and in those who are prescribed preventive medication. It can be intentional, unintentional, or both. Individuals with dementia often fall into the “unintentional” category due to confusion, misunderstanding or forgetfulness.

Individuals can be often confused by the number and variety of medications they need to take, and adherence has been known to be associated with the complexity of their health requirements. Carers should therefore aim to simplify the process as much as possible. For patients with cognitive impairment, the support of a carer to encourage or assist with medication administration is often essential.

What are supportive aids?

Medication reminders are often referred to as “supportive aids” or “assistive technology” and they are any system or device that increases the ease with which a task can be performed or assists an individual to perform a task that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. In terms of assisting with medication reminders for dementia patients, they can range from pill dispensers and Webster packs to apps and personal trackers.

What are the benefits of supportive aids?

Supportive aids can assist by:

  • Reducing the risk of medications being taken incorrectly or not at all.
  • Supporting independence and choice for the person with dementia and those around them.
  • Reducing premature entry into residential and hospital care.
  • Reducing the stress for carers.
  • Improving a carer’s quality of life and that of the person with dementia.

Are supportive aids suitable for your loved one?

With any form of care or support, there are a number of considerations to contemplate when deciding whether an item or aid is suitable for your loved one. Ideally, the person living with dementia is involved in the decision-making process and consents to use the supportive aid. Cost, appropriateness, accessibility and ease of use must also be considered, so you should consult your loved one’s healthcare team (GP, geriatrician etc.) in terms of the most appropriate supportive aid. The need for familiarity is also often important for dementia patients, so it is important to only change the things that need changing.

Pill reminders for dementia patients

Pill reminders for dementia patients in the form of pill dispensers can be a simple and cost-effective solution. These come in a range of sizes and styles. In their simplest form, they are dosette boxes that are labelled with the time and/or day of the week that medications are required.

There are also automatic pill dispensers that have auditory prompts — essentially alarms — that are reminders that medicines are required at various times during the day. Many of these are lockable, ensuring the correct dose is accessible at the right time. Some also have different alarm tones and the ability to set multiple alarms during the day. Others allow up to a month’s worth of medication to be prepared in the dispenser.

Dementia reminder apps

There are a variety of dementia reminder apps available, including in the Australian iTunes and Google Play stores. In 2016, the George Institute for Global Health (an independent medical research institute headquartered in Australia) conducted a study on the best medication reminder apps.

Researchers identified 17 features as being desirable in medication reminder apps, including:

  • flexible scheduling
  • medication tracking history
  • snooze option
  • visual aids
  • customisable alert sounds
  • data exporting/sharing
  • languages other than English
  • refill reminders
  • data security
  • adhere statistics and charts and adherence rewards

They then classified each product as “basic” or “advanced” and ranked them using the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS) tool.

The study found that apps available from Google Play had higher star ratings, more customer reviews and lower (or no) cost compared with those available through iTunes. These are downloadable and easily used by carers or your phone-savvy elderly loved one! Here is their list of the best advanced and best basic apps.

Best advanced apps

  • Medisafe
  • Dosecast
  • MyMeds
  • CareZone
  • My Pillbox
  • MedicineList

Best basic apps

  • My heart, my life
  • MediWare
  • MyMedManager
  • Pill Reminder

NPS MedicineWise, an Australian not-for-profit organisation whose programs are funded by the national Department of Health also launched a medicines management app in 2017 which provides information about medicines, a medicine list builder and dose reminders. It can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store.

Other dementia reminders

In terms of other dementia reminders, another option worth considering for your loved one is a personal tracker. Many of these are specifically designed for people with dementia, and the cost of some are covered under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

These trackers allow you to locate and communicate with your loved one instantly and at any time. They are designed to help you and your loved one feel in control and safe and provide peace of mind. Typically available as a watch or pendant, they offer a range of features from WiFI tracking maps and call and SOS functions to 4G functionality, and a “find” function if your loved one happens to misplace their device. They also offer you the ability to set alerts to ensure that medications are taken when they are supposed to be.

Webster packs for dementia patients

Most chemists are able to prepare Webster packaging or dose administration. These arrange medications in individual pouches or compartments and can assist your elderly loved one to take the correct dose of medication at the right time. Packs are personalised, and typically, they arrange medications for a week with seven rows representing seven days and four columns for each dosage time — breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. A fortnight’s worth of medications is typically supplied and can often be delivered to your loved one’s residence (and often for free).

The process is relatively simple. A signed and dated medication chart is obtained from your loved one’s GP and given to the chemist and all scripts and repeats are placed on file. Any existing bottles or packets of medication should also be given to the chemist to alleviate wastage and the risk of doubling up. Paperwork then needs to be supplied to them, including address details, contact numbers, and health care, pension and/or Medicare card details.

An account is then set up, which may include a monthly fee. However, for many pensioners, the service is rebatable using the Medicare medication management review items. If cost is an issue, it may also be possible for your loved one’s GP to introduce combination medicines, reduce the frequency of administration, or even de-prescribe in some instances. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) can also help lower the cost of some prescription medicines. If your loved one spends a lot on PBS medicines, the PBS Safety Net may also reduce their costs.

Notice is required if more than one Webster pack is required at a time, for example, during public holidays. The chemist will also require notice if your loved one is unexpectedly away, for example, in hospital. Any changes in medication ordered by their GP must have written or verbal notification, and the chemist will also notify you if new prescriptions are required.

Dementia medical bracelet

There are also companies that supply dementia medical bracelets. These are particularly useful for healthcare professionals and service personnel in the event of an emergency. In terms of emergency services, the bracelet is engraved with your loved one’s health concerns and alerts first responders to any illnesses, allergies, devices, medications and conditions, including dementia. It then enables them to provide accurate assistance and ensure the appropriate medications are supplied if your loved one needs to go to the hospital.

Although dealing with a loved one who has dementia can be extremely challenging, there is a range of tools available that provide medication reminders for dementia patients, from simple pillboxes to those that use the wonders of modern technology!