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

A fellow caregiver asked...

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

Expert Answer

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.