Remembering to take pills and ensuring you take them at the right time is vital, but how can you do this when you have dementia? We investigate the challenges and the products that can help
If you know or care for a loved one with dementia and they have to take regular medication, it can end up becoming a tricky challenge, the main one being that they could forget to take medication, or forget they’ve already taken it and double dose.
Here’s what you need to consider, and ways you can tackle any obstacles to taking medication regularly and safely.
What are the challenges?
Confused by different medications
If a loved one takes lots of different types of medications, which need to be taken at different times, it’s no wonder that it’s easy to get confused about what needs to be taken.
Can’t get the lid off
Sometimes prescription drugs are put in quite fiddly bottles or packaging. This could be to reduce the risk of young children picking up the medication and opening the bottle and taking it, or it could be because the drugs come in what is known as ‘blister packs’.
Struggle to swallow them
Certain pills can be extremely large and tricky to swallow, particularly if the person with dementia already struggles with swallowing food and drink.
This is one of the main concerns for those caring for someone for dementia. If they’re continually forgetting to take their pills, they’re putting their health at risk. They may miss a dose, or forget they’ve already taken their pills and double dose.
What can you do?
This could be anything from leaving post-it notes or messages in clear places around the house, to setting an alarm on a clock or phone to let them know they need to take them. You could try leaving the pills in a plastic cup with the time they’re supposed to take them (morning, afternoon etc) in certain areas of the house that they’re likely to be at that time. For example, morning pills could be left in the bathroom near their toothbrush, midday pills in the kitchen by the breadbin and evening pills on their bedside table.
Organise a reminder phone call
It can be time consuming to have to ring all the time, but sometimes it’s the most straightforward way to ensure that a loved one is taking their medication. Giving them a call to remind them to take their pills (and even waiting on the phone while they take them) could help. However, you could also look into telecare, where you can pay professionals to ring up to check that medication has been remembered.
Use outside help
A friendly neighbour could come in handy to ensure medication is taken, or to help if they’re struggling to open pill containers, and you can’t get to the house. It’s often worth letting neighbours know about your loved one’s condition so you can give them a call if you’re concerned. Alternatively, many professional home carers can be put in charge of ensuring that the person with dementia remembers to take their medication.
Use pill crushers
These are handy gadgets that can either split a tablet in two, to make it easier to swallow, or crush it down so it can be dissolved in solution and drunk.
Use pill boxes and dispensers
There’s an enormous array of containers and dispensers that can help you to manage medication, and the one that you pick will depend on what challenges the person with dementia faces. Have a read of some of the types below for some guidance.
Types of pill boxes and dispensers
These are plastic containers in which you can place a dose of pills to be taken at a specific time. You can get time of day pill boxes (morning, lunchtime, evening and night) and days of the week pill boxes to help organise doses so you can keep track of them. These are relatively cheap and easy to fill by a family member or carer. They’re useful if the person with dementia has enough cognition to remember to take pills, but likes to get them organised each week.
Pill box alarms
If the person you care for struggles to remember to take pills, or needs something to remind them, a pill box alarm can help. They tend to have less space to hold pills, but will have an alarm (either using sound or vibration) to alert someone that they need to take their medication.
Automatic pill dispensers
These are dispensers that will automatically release the required medication dose into a tray or holder, often sounding an alarm each time to alert the person with dementia. The dispenser will be in the style of a covered tray where only the dose that’s required at that time is available, and most have 28 compartments which can last between one week and a month depending on how many doses you take each day.
It’s worth remembering that some pharmacists will fill a pill dispenser with a prescription so you don’t have to do it yourself (they’ll give you the packaging and any leaflets or instructions for the medicines afterwards), but may charge a fee to do this. You may want to buy two dispensers so that one can still be used while the other is at the pharmacy.
Don’t forget, if your loved one is going out during the day and needs to take medication then, you’ll need to put a dose in a portable pill dispenser as many of the automatic versions are too large and bulky to be carried around all day.
What if they refuse to take pills?
Imagine if you were being asked to take medication by someone who you didn’t really recognise. They kept insisting but you were unsure about taking pills that could be from anyone and for anything. So it’s no wonder someone with dementia may be unwilling to take pills. If this is the case, here’s what you could try to talk them around.
Note from the doctor
Someone with dementia may be more willing to take medication if they can see a note from their doctor explaining why. Doctors are traditionally a trusted member of the community, particularly for those in the older generations, so you may find a loved one with dementia a little more open to taking their daily pills if they can see a note explaining why they’re taking them and what they’re for from someone in a position of medical authority.
It probably isn’t your proudest moment, but sometimes a little bribery can go a long way. Making a deal with a loved one dementia so that they get to do a favourite pastime or visit somewhere in exchange for taking their medication could help.
Hide it in food
This can be a little controversial as nobody wants to have to mislead someone, but if it’s the difference between them not taking the pills and jeopardising their health, and having them mixed into foods or drinks without their knowledge, but staying healthy, many would argue it’s worth being a little covert. Try crushing the pills into sweet flavoured food such as apple sauce or yogurt, but be mindful that some drugs have a very strong taste and the person with dementia may still be able to detect them even within food.
Give it 10 minutes
If they are still adamant that they won’t take their pills. You could wait a bit and then try again. If their short term memory is bad, they might not remember why they didn’t want to take them before and be more open to it this time round.