I had a great-aunt, Jean, who when I was growing up seemed to be about 100 years old. She was probably not even close, but since I had no living grandparents, to me, she was what aging was all about. And it was great. She was a sparkplug, as they said back then, and always had a quip ready. Most of them went over my head, though gales of adult laughter ringing through memory makes me think most of the jokes were “blue”. But she would always draw my attention, point her cane over to her medicine cabinet—with its seemingly hundreds of bottles of pills—tell me that she was starting her own drug store, and that if I knew any old people I should send them over. That always tickled me, and I was constantly in awe of how she could keep all these medicines straight.
It turned out, sadly, that she couldn’t. She refused help, and frequently forgot to take some of her medicine, or took the wrong kind, and quickly declined. My father never got over losing his oldest living relative to something as seemingly trivial as poor organization, and when he got older, he became a fanatic about medicine management. But even for him, it was difficult. He and my mom spent hours getting everything organized for the week, and were still always worried they had messed up.
That’s a fear for anyone who is a caregiver or has an aging loved one they are taking care of. Older adults are prescribed, and sometimes overprescribed, a lot of medicine. One recent study estimated that people between the ages of 65 and 79 received an average of 27 new prescriptions per year. If you can’t always be there—which is almost always the case—there is a real worry that pills will go untaken, or will be taken at the wrong time, or that too many will be ingested. The rise of medication management technology, though, which promises to be a powerful tool for organization, can help to ease worries while maintaining the health of our aging loved ones.
What Is Medication Management Technology?
Medication management technology is a crucial part of the health technology revolution. It is one of the more important components of aging in place because it minimizes the danger of messing up medications. After all, very few of us are actually pharmacists.
And that can be a problem when helping a loved one with medication. There are many potentially dangerous issues that come with medicine. If our loved one forgets to take their medicine, they will suffer negative consequences. It is the same as if they take too much: taking two pills instead of one doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it can have huge ramifications, especially if multiplied over a long timespan.
In addition, different medicines might react poorly with one another. A pharmacist might have a strict regimen to space out various medicines so that they don’t combine and produce harmful side effects, but following it might get confusing. There also could be dietary restrictions, limitations, and suggestions that need to be kept track of involving both what a person can eat with the medicine, and when they should take medicine in relation to meals. Juggling all of these requirements and warnings can be exhausting, and there’s always the fear that something’s been forgotten.
Medication management can ease these fears. Smartphone and tablet-based apps like MyMedSchedule and Medisafe Medication Reminder help to set medicine schedules and alerts, keeping caregivers and older loved ones in the loop at all times. IOA’s app for caregivers can manage prescriptions, appointments, and keep family members and other concerned loved ones informed and on call. This kind of technology helps to erase some of the most common problems, including:
This is perhaps the most prevalent problem with medicine management: remembering when everything should be taken. It is hard enough for a caregiver, but can be even harder for an older loved one on their own. These apps and programs set out what needs to be taken, and when. A caregiver can consult with the pharmacist and doctor to make sure they have all the information, program it into the easy-to-use interface, and not have to worry about scheduling issues. Of course, they still have to make sure that the medicine is accessible and easy to take, but the scheduled alerts and reminders are easier than the constant checking of the clock, and with less room for error.
In my home, my mom had all dosages written down for my dad on the fridge, in case she wasn’t home—the writing on the bottle was too small. It seems paranoid, but dosage can be forgotten and mixed up. Routine inoculates us against caution sometimes. Having a reminder that clearly includes amounts makes sure that you can’t over- or underdose.
Pharmacists ensure that all your medications are compatible, but medical apps are a helpful backup. Some can crosscheck against personal history and across other medicines that you are scheduling. If you put in the wrong drug, or if it comes up as incompatible with other medications, newer apps can actually bring the potential conflict to your attention. Smart apps learn about patients and know what makes sense, and what works together. They won’t make their own decisions, but will alert you if information doesn’t seem to add up so you can double-check with a pharmacist.
Immediate Medical Advice
As apps get smarter, and as telemedicine becomes more prominent, you will be able to consult with a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist directly through the app. If you have questions, you can press a button and get an answer, not through a formula, but through interaction with a living, breathing medical professional who has immediate access to all the information they need to help. It’s like having a hospital at your beck and call.
Your loved one may find it odd at first to depend on an app for reminders, rather than a written schedule or calendar, but its reliability and ease of use will quickly help them overcome their hesitation. Embracing medication management technology helps to correct any mistakes and avoid dangerous, even potentially fatal, errors. It is peace of mind that can’t be bought, but can, thankfully, be downloaded.
At Institute on Aging, we help caregivers, family members, and older adults deal with the challenges of aging at home, so that they can embrace the dignity, independence, and happiness that comes with it. Understanding the role of technology to augment care is a big part of that. Connect with us today to learn more about our programs.