How Do I Help Someone With Dementia Remember to Take Medications?

4 answers | Last updated: Nov 14, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I make sure someone with dementia takes his medications?

Expert Answers

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's. A Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow, she writes extensively about health and caregiving; four of her family members have had dementia.

You're right not to leave it up to the person. Even in cases of mild or early dementia, it's common to have poor prospective memory -- that is, memory for events in the future -- like taking medication or keeping appointments. It's also hard to form new habits, whereas longtime pill-taking routines may be easier to remember and maintain.

There are several strategies to try. Try setting up a pillbox in which you can put a week's worth of pills, sorted by day. This will also help you know when a prescription is running low, so it can be reordered before it runs out.

Then check the pillbox every day to gauge whether the person can keep up with his medication regimen. If a box alone isn't enough of a reminder, look into a system that uses a phone's or a computer's internal clock to remind the person to take a pill. They usually trigger an alarm. Some systems also require the person to press a key to confirm that it's been done. You can also set your own watch or computer to remind you to call and talk the person through the taking of the medicine each morning and/or evening.
When a person can no longer keep track of medications on his own, however, he needs to be situation in which the environment is structured to help with such things.

Community Answers

Higgo answered...

Thankyou for your answer - it was very helpful - my father - in - law has his medication put into a dispensor the thing is that he is not taking them at the correct time he is supposed to. Like he dosen'nt get out of bed now until 1.30 - 2.00pm of which then he has his breakfast and takes morning tablets then about 3.30pm he has the afternoon tablets and as for the evening tablets we are not sure when he takes them. The other solution we thought of was have the district come every morning lunch and evening to actually administer them - we have spoke to the head of district nursing and they also suggested the monitoring system but the trouble is he dose'nt answer the phone - he dose'nt answer it when the district nurse calls to get him ready for his compression stockings to be put on - so we really don't think this will benefit anyone. My husband and I agree that maybe he should be in a environment where he is observed more and can keep track of all his needs.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I had the same dilemma with my Mother. I got 3 small plastic cups and labeled each....TAKE AFTER BREAKFAST and place on the table where she eats breakfast. TAKE AFTER LUNCH is placed on the kitchen counter where I know she will see; and TAKE AT BEDTIME is placed by her bed. So far this has worked. The dispenser was a problem for her because she dropped them, wouldn't take, etc. This eventually caused a serious medical problem with her.

Frankc answered...

As you've guessed, you need to provide an outside person to guide him through this (and possibly other) tasks. The dementia may get in the way of their knowing the time of day and whether it's time for breakfast or a midnight snack and how to act appropriately based on that (which pills to take and how often). They may wander and take other pills or take pills they've already taken, marked cups or not. So they may be at the point where assisted/supportive living is necessary, or at least adult daycare if the pill-taking occurs during "work" hours.