Are you suffering from dementia or know somebody who does? People who have seen firsthand what it’s like for dementia patients to miss doses understand the importance of medication management. It isn’t rare for elderly patients to forget to take a dose or two, and it isn’t fair to put the blame on them.
A medication management system can bring peace of mind and even prove to be a life-saver. Some patients who miss doses attempt to compensate by taking more prescription medication than they should, which can lead to catastrophic results.
Thankfully, automatic pill dispensers have become more commonplace, equipped with new technology to send multiple reminders a day, prevent overdosing, and help caregivers monitor their patients.
In this review, I’ll offer our top picks for pill dispensers for dementia. Plenty of options are available on the market, but I want to help you save time by creating a shortlist of products designed to meet different purposes
What to Look for in Pill Dispensers for Dementia?
First of all, it’s critical to identify the essential factors that separate reliable pill dispensers from those that fall short of expectations.
Many patients and caregivers only look at the price of these medication adherence and management solutions, but you should learn how to look beyond the upfront cost and consider other things that will ultimately influence the day-to-day life of the dementia patient.
Ease of use
Pill dispensers should be easy to use since they’re meant to make life easier for people with dementia. Figure out how easy it is to load the pills inside the dispenser.
For patients who have poor vision, it’s recommended to choose something that comes with a large display and clearly labeled buttons. The way in which the pills are dispensed should also be taken into account. Does the user need to open a lid, press a button, or flip the whole thing upside down?
The number of pills that the dispenser can hold is a deciding factor. In most cases, pill dispensers can hold medications that last for a full week.
Of course, this varies based on how many pills the patient needs to take in a day. If large tablets are included in the patient’s daily dose, check whether they can fit inside the storage compartments.
Pill dispensers with alarms or a flashing light have proven to be a huge hit since its inception. Back in the day, they would only sound an alarm to notify patients that it was time to take their medicine.
Today, however, a more advanced medication management system comes with alarms that not only give off sound, but also provide visual cues like flashing lights. Some even allow you to record a familiar voice, which could help in encouraging patients to follow the proper time to take their medicine.
Don’t forget to check the volume level of the alarm and how it can be turned off.
Locks and Connectivity
These serve as the primary security features of pill-dispensing tools. It’s recommended to go for dispensers that can be locked to prevent a patient from taking more pills at once or at the wrong pills at the wrong time.
It’s also wise to invest in a dispenser that can be connected to external devices to inform caregivers about when to check on the patient.
I have a more detailed buying guide later in this article if you’d like more details.
Top 5 Pill Dispensers for Dementia
Now that you more about the important features of pill dispensers, here are my top 5 recommended models for seniors with dementia:
1. Hero Automatic Pill Dispenser
- The dispenser can carry up to 90 days of medicine.
- Can manage scheduling for up to 10 different daily doses and medications.
- Has both visible and audible alarms.
- This dispenser can automatically order medicine if it is running low.
- Pay with HSA or FSA money (and possibly insurance, based on your plan).
- No back-up battery power.
- Can’t handle gummies, liquids, or halved/quartered pills (but it could remind you about these).
- The setup might require assistance based on the tech-savviness of the user.
When you see this device, you might not immediately realize that it’s a medication dispenser. Its contemporary design makes it more like an elegant coffee machine.
But make no mistake; this pill dispenser is more than just good looks. It’s a locked and timed pill dispenser that boasts of powerful features both for patients and caregivers.
Upon setting up the device for the first time, you need to connect to the Internet, create an account at Hero Health, and set your medication schedule. You can also add caregivers to alert them of your dose activity.
It might look complicated to use the machine, but refilling is actually a breeze. This pill organizer can accommodate up to 10 different pills. Simply put each pill type into a separate container and then follow the on-screen instructions when placing the containers inside the device.
The device makes a beep sound and a button with a flashing light to tell you it’s time to take your medications.
Just push the button and Hero gives you all of the pills you need at the appropriate dose. If the cup remains on the tray for more than 15 minutes, both the user and the caregivers will receive a text message.
Because it has so many helpful features that work automatically, the Hero Pill Dispenser, is hands down, the best automatic pill dispenser for most people with dementia.
2. MedReady 1700 Medication Pill Dispenser
- Just enough features without being too complicated
- Decent pill capacity to meet the needs of most users
- Battery backup system in case of a power outage
- Lockable lid
- Loud enough for those that are hard of hearing
Cannot retake a missed dose
Visual alarms are available but it costs $10 extra
MedReady is a trusted brand when it comes to medication management solutions. They offer different products to cater to the various needs of elderly patients.
Their best-selling product is the MedReady 1700 Original Dispenser. This automatic pill dispenser features a sizable 28-dose capacity, which should be enough to accommodate all the medication needs of the average patient for a full week.
This unit will set off a beeping alarm at the prescribed time, reminding patients to take their pill. You can configure the alarm to last between 30 and 250 minutes. Users also rave about how easy it is to use the device. No problems with loading pills and locking the dispenser. It also runs on battery, allowing you to carry the device anywhere without worrying that you can’t use it.
3. Sagely Smart Weekly Pill Organizer
- Elegant design
- Each container can be removed to improve portability
- Large compartments for larger pills
- Push-through design makes loading pills fun and easy
- Requires the Sagely Pill Reminder app to send notifications via your smartphone
This pill organizer from Sagely is undoubtedly a favorite among both dementia patients and caregivers. It stands out because of its simple yet timeless design. The Sagely Smart Pill Organizer comes with 7 containers, each of which has two compartments that can hold larger-than-average medications.
The containers are color-coded as well, making it easier for patients to remember which pills to take in the morning and evening. And since there are 14 compartments in total, it can be used as a weekly pill organizer for morning and evening routines or as a two-week pill organizer for those with fewer medications to take.
The containers are attached to a magnetic tray. This means you can take out at many containers as you want by simply detaching them from the tray, taking them with you on-the-go.
Sagely also takes pride in their Push-Through design that makes it simple and accurate to load pills. The only downside is that it doesn’t come with a physical alarm. You need to install the Sagely Pill Reminder app which essentially acts at the pillbox alarm.
You can buy the Sagely Smart Pill Organizer at Amazon.com.
4. Medcenter Monthly Medication Organizer
- 31 pillboxes with 4 compartments each
- Easy color-coded system to mark days that are done
- Large screen display
- Loud alarm that can be set to go off up to 4 times daily
- Considering that it’s a monthly organizer, expect it to take up a lot of counter space
- Time-consuming to load all of the pills inside the 124 individual compartments
If a 7-day pill organizer just doesn’t fit your needs, then you may want to check out the MedCenter monthly pill organizer. It’s not surprising that many users consider it to be the best 31-day pill dispenser on the market. This organizer features a classic pillbox caddy system.
You’ll find a total of 31 pillboxes with 4 compartments each. The compartments are labeled morning, noon, evening, and night.
At either end of each pillbox, you’ll see color-coded numbers. Green is used to mark the remaining days of the calendar. Just flip the pillbox so that it shows the Red color once you’re done for that day.
Another advantage of using this pill organizer is that it sports a very large display. Choose between two volume settings for the talking alarm. Even at the lower setting, the volume is loud enough to ensure that patients will hear the device.
You can also detach the alarm, allowing you to take it with you and the corresponding pillbox for the day.
5. MedMinder Maya Automatic Pill Dispenser
- Monthly pill organizer with 28 total compartments
- The appropriate compartment lights up when the alarm sounds
- Straightforward refilling process, all compartments are open when the main lid is lifted
- Remote programming for caregivers or family members
- Custom message can be used as the alarm
- Subscription-based model may not suit every user, though the monthly fee is reasonable
MedMinder Maya is particularly popular among caregivers. The reason is that it makes it so easy to program the dispensing times for their patients. While this automated pill dispenser looks like an ordinary organizer, it’s equipped with technology that helps patients take the right medications at the correct times.
It features 28 compartments sitting on a rectangular tray. At the scheduled time, an alarm sounds off and the compartment for the day lights up. This tells the patient which compartment to open. It’s also possible to set a custom message as the alarm.
MedMinder has a central monitoring system. Their device is equipped with a cellular modem, allowing caregivers to set the dispensing times remotely. The same technology also makes it easy to configure reminders and monitor the dose activity of patients.
All this can be done by simply plugging in the device. There’s no need for Internet access.
What Are The Most Common Issues Seniors Have with Medication?
There are a few common issues that seniors have with medication. They may forget to take their medication, they might get their medications confused, they may not be able to swallow pills, or they may not be able to get the medication into their system.
A pill dispenser can help make taking medications easier for seniors by reminding them to take the right medication at the right time. Automated dispensers give access to only the medication that they need to take at that time for proper dosing.
Of course, it is important that the system be set up properly in the first place. Some adults with dementia may need assistance loading their medication dispensers. But, thankfully, most hold at least a week’s worth of medications at a time.
What Are The Different Types of Pill Dispensers for Seniors?
Seniors can use a variety of pill dispensers depending on their individual needs. These options range from the bottles the pills came in from the pharmacy to advanced electronic distribution systems with remote monitoring.
These boxes usually have slots for different medications and are usually labeled each day of the week. The box can be kept on a counter or in a cabinet. The advantage of pill boxes is that they are easy to use and help older adults keep track of all of the medication that is being taken.
Another advantage is they are portable and seniors can take their medication with them wherever they go without having to carry around bottles. They can also remember when they last took their medication by looking at the remaining pills in the bottle.
The drawbacks of pill boxes are that they can be difficult for seniors to use and some people find them too cumbersome. They are larger than pill bottles. They also must be filled correctly at the start to serve their purpose.
Also, there is no reminder to prompt the senior when it is time to take their medication.
Pill Box With Alarms or Reminders
A pill box with an alarm can help keep seniors safe and healthy by ensuring they always take their medications as prescribed. These are an upgrade to a standard pill box by adding the alarm and reminder function.
The advantages of a pill box with an alarm are that it helps seniors stay on track with their medication and it can be a lifesaver in an emergency. The alarm will sound if the medication is not taken and will remind the senior when their next dose is due.
The drawbacks of a pill box with an alarm are that they can be expensive and seniors may not want to use one if they do not have to. Some people find them difficult to use because of the buttons and screens on them.
Automatic Pill Dispensers
With an automatic medication dispenser, they will never have to worry about missing doses again.
These dispensers can alert the user when it is time to take a pill, and they can also dispense the correct dosages. This makes taking medications a lot easier for seniors with dementia, and it can help them stay healthy overall. Many of them can even sound an alarm or alert caregivers when medications are missed.
However, these systems must be filled with the correct pills in the correct locations which can be difficult for some people with dementia. Caregivers can step in and help with this function. The best automatic pill dispenser for dementia will hold at least a week’s medication at a time so this won’t be too cumbersome of a duty.
Electronic Pill Dispensers With Remote Monitoring
There are a number of pill dispensers with remote monitoring features that can be a great help for seniors with dementia. These pill dispensers can alert caregivers when a dose is missed, so there is no need to worry about forgetting to give the medication.
Additionally, these dispensers can also track how often the medication is taken, which can help keep patients on track and ensure they are taking their prescription medications as prescribed.
Some systems even prompt the senior to take their medications through an app or phone call from a central monitoring service.
10 Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a Pill Dispenser for Someone With Dementia
When caring for a loved one with dementia, it is important to ensure they are taking their prescribed medications on time. One way to make sure this happens is to purchase a pill dispenser for them.
Here are some things to consider before making this purchase:
1. What type of pill dispenser is best for the person with dementia?
There are several types of pill dispensers available, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some require minimal setup, while others require more advanced programming or adjustments. It is important to choose the right type of dispenser for the individual’s needs.
2. What features should the pill dispenser have?
Many pill dispensers come with features such as visual alerts or alarms that sound when the medication is due, a timer that tracks how often the medication is taken, and an app or phone call system that can alert caregivers when the medication has been taken. It is important to find a dispenser with all of the features the individual needs and wants.
3. Is the dispenser adequate for their medication and dosage needs?
Whichever system you choose, you want to make sure it can hold everything it needs including several days worth of medication. Compare the specific times per day the system can administer dosages with the number of times the senior takes medications. Also, make sure the cups or pill holders are large enough to hold the number of pills taken at each interval.
4. Will the dispenser still work in the future?
The unfortunate reality with dementia and Alzheimer’s is that cognitive function will continue to decline. Look for a system that is expandable as the user’s medical condition and medication needs and dosages change and will still function for them as their abilities decline.
5. Can the user open the containers?
Older adults that also have arthritis or poor dexterity may have difficulty lifting the lids of some pill boxes and dispensers. Think about the ease of use of the system you choose and make sure they can physically manage it too.
6. How much does the pill dispenser cost?
The cost of a pill dispenser will vary depending on the type of dispenser, features included, and manufacturer. It is important to do some research before making a purchase so that you know what to expect in terms of price.
7. Does the pill dispenser have a monthly subscription fee?
Some smart pill dispensers, especially ones that have monitoring services attached to them, require a monthly fee. Make sure you know up front what that fee is and how long you are locked into a contract with the service. Also, be sure to ask how often they can raise the monthly cost.
8. How is the pill dispenser powered?
Many electronic pill dispensers require batteries so make sure you know if they came with them or if you have to buy them separately. Some also have charging stations that allow the electronic pill dispenser to be plugged in and used without batteries. The type of power system should be easy enough for someone with dementia to handle.
9. Does the dispensing system have a battery back-up?
In the event of an emergency or power outages, will the dispenser you choose still be able to function? Small battery powered pill boxes should be fine but the more automated countertop models may not. Systems with battery backups are always best for seniors with dementia.
10. Does the pill dispenser require internet service or a phone line?
Monitored pill dispensers will need a way to communicate with caregivers or a central monitoring location. This will require a phone line, cellular service, or internet access – maybe even both. Make sure you know the requirements up front so that you can have any necessary services or equipment and ready to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Medicare pay for automatic pill dispensers?
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover automatic pill dispensers, although they may be covered under a private insurance plan. Automatic dispenser systems are often costly even though they tend to be the best option for a person with dementia. Some systems offer payment plans and credit card payment options. Often, the expense will fall to the caregivers.
Can I use a HSA or FSA to pay for an automatic pill dispenser?
Yes, with most Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts, pill dispensers are a qualified health care expense and are eligible for reimbursement. This usually includes any monthly subscription service fees. Check your individual plan for verification.
Can people with arthritis still use an automatic pill dispenser?
While pill boxes and bottles can be difficult to open for people with arthritis, most automatic pill dispensers use cups or open containers and slots without lids to dispense pills. So, yes, people with arthritis can use automatic pill dispensers and may even find them easier to use.
How do you clean a pill organizer?
When it comes to taking medications, it is important to have a pill organizer in order to make sure you never miss doses. However, it is also important to keep the organizer clean in order to prevent the spread of bacteria.
While each dispenser will come with its own specific cleaning instructions, here are some general tips for cleaning a pill organizer.
- Clean the system when it is empty or remove all the pills from the organizer and place them in a plastic bag.
- Dip a rag in a solution of warm water with a drop or two of dish soap.
- Wipe out each compartment thoroughly. Use a cotton swab to get to those hard to reach corners. If the compartments are removable, submerge and wash them in the sink.
- Rinse each compartment or wipe out with a wet cloth and let dry.
- Wipe down the outside with a damp cloth being extra careful around buttons, switches, screens, and openings in the cabinets.
- Once everything is completely dry, reassemble and fill the compartments back up.
How do you organize pills for dementia?
When it comes to managing pills for dementia, it can be difficult to keep track of doses and never miss a dose. First, read each bottle and make sure you understand how many times per day the medication is taken and how many pills are taken at a time. Usually, pills are taken in the morning, afternoon, and before bed.
Use med cups or a pill box to separate out each dosage with the proper number of pills. Of course, individual cups laying around can get confusing fast, so this is why many seniors and caregivers opt for a pill box or dispenser system instead.
Is it OK to put medicine in a pill box?
Putting medicine in a pill box can help you never miss doses again. It’s important to remember to take your medications on time, even if you’re using a pillbox. If you forget to take your medication, it could lead to serious health problems.
Do pills need to be kept airtight?
Pills should be kept in an airtight and low humidity environment. They should also be kept away from bright lights. Each of these conditions can reduce the effectiveness of medications.
Fortunately, most pill boxes and dispensers meet this need because the pills are “sealed” in individual compartments with lids to prevent airflow and humidity. They are also dark or have opaque plastic lids to help keep out light.
If not, they can be kept in a dark cabinet when not being used.
What do I do if I miss a dosage of medication?
If you miss a dose of medication, it is important to take the missed dose as soon as possible.
If it is close to the time for your next scheduled dose, wait until then and take the missed dose.
If it is more than two hours since you missed your last dose, take the missed dose then and wait until your next scheduled time to take your next dose.
If it is more than four hours since you missed your last dose, call your doctor or pharmacist for instructions.
As you can see, automatic pill dispensers for elderly with dementia come in all shapes and sizes. Not all of them are created equal, so you need to be prudent when it comes to choosing the right device for your particular needs.
Most of the medication management solutions these days use advanced technologies to guarantee that users never miss doses. At the same time, they can also offer systems that prevent overdosing.
For caregivers, it’s essential to consider the connectivity of the device and how it sends notifications so you can rest easy knowing that you’ll be reminded in case your patient misses a dose.