The first ‘smart’ pill that knows if it’s been taken has been approved in the USA. Is this something that would be useful for people living with dementia? Adam Vaughan, Unforgettable’s head of new product development and innovation, investigates the pros and cons

At Unforgettable our customers often tell us about the daily challenges of taking medication when living with dementia. Remembering to take medication can be a challenge, as can remembering if you’ve taken your medication or not afterwards. This can lead to problems of not taking enough medication, or taking too much, both of which can be dangerous. These problems are compounded by the fact that people living with dementia often face health issues connected with ageing, and may need to take a lot of different tablets, along with vitamin and supplement pills at different times during the day.

We’ve done our best to provide a number of different solutions to these challenges. These include our 3-in-1 reminder clock, which can be set up to sound reminders to take your tablets at any time of day, pill boxes that can separate each dose of medication, and both reminder alarms and tablet doses combined in our lockable automatic pill dispenser. These go some way to ensure the right medication is dispensed at the right time, but none of them can really ensure that the person living with dementia has actually taken their medication. The reminder alarms may be ignored or not understood, tablets may be dispensed but forgotten about, or those living with dementia may be actively opposed to taking their medication, resulting in them hiding it or disposing of it.

This may all change in the near future due to an innovation in ‘smart medication’ from US based health-tech company, Proteus Health. Proteus has developed a tiny ingestible sensor that can be embedded inside a tablet. When the tablet is taken, the sensor detects that it’s being broken down in the digestive system and sends a signal to the user’s smart phone, via a small wearable patch. This way, family members and doctors know that prescribed medication has been taken and can better understand if it’s been effective or not.

This technology has been progressing for a number of years, but an exciting development this week was the approval of the first medication incorporating these sensors by the American drug authority, the FDA. The drug in question, Abilify Mycite, is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, so although not relevant for people with dementia, does pave the way for the technology to be used in different kinds of tablets, including those for health issues faced in ageing.