By Megan Seckman

Monitoring medications for yourself or a loved one can be an enigmatic puzzle. Take the green in the morning before coffee, the big white one with a meal, the two pinks before bed, and the brown ones as needed. It can be exhausting trying to remember the regimen and remains a sensitive beacon of independence. My mother-in-law was sincerely hurt when her son took over dispensing her meds.

Even though her deteriorating memory warranted this decision, perhaps a high-tech pill box would have been the compromise most fitting for a senior attempting to age in place — a compromise that gives the family peace of mind and everyone involved a little more autonomy. Here are three ideas caregivers can use to help their loved one keep track of their medications.

The Device
Many devices on the market such as medSmart E-Pill Automatic Pill Dispenser are made up of 28 active compartments that can be programmed to dispense pills for 4-30 days (depending on the amount of daily doses). The compartments are locked to deter overdosing and open after an alarm sounds to remind the user to take her medicine. Reviews suggest this device is easy to use (in comparison to other pill dispensers) and has a long battery life (batteries with AC adaptor back-up). Cost ranges between $200-$700.

Best for: Seniors who will remember what the alarm calls for, will take the pill right away without forgetting, and do not tend to over-medicate or tamper with the device (reviews suggest it is relatively easy to pry open the compartments). Some suggest putting a sign above the machine to remind the patient what the alarm signals.

The Device + App
MedMinder Automatic Pill Dispenser works like other pill dispensers with a calendar-like grid that holds up to four pills in 28 compartments. Using the device’s own internal cellular modem, when meds are not taken on time the device flashes, then beeps, then sends a text message, at 30-minute intervals, and finally alerts caregivers. The device also features a medical alert feature and allows for voice recording (so the message “Take your medicine, grandpa” could be from his favorite granddaughter). Cost ranges between $40-$65 a month.

Best for: Seniors who do not take more than four pills per day and/or take all medication at once, unless the patient can manage his allotment of meds throughout the day without forgetting. The device does offer replacement trays and various scheduled alerts to combat this issue (i.e. “Time to take your evening pill, Poppa”).

The App
Medisafe Medication Reminder is a completely free service offered on most smartphones. Ranked #1 by pharmacists, this app gives alerts with images of the pill when it is time to dispense medication. The home screen can be accessed from your phone, tablet, or smartwatch and displays morning, midday, and evening medicine regimens.The user places a “check” by each pill after taken.

Best for: Users who are competent with a smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch and don’t have any issues with over-medicating. Although some reviews indicate initial setup is challenging, the day-to-day usage is simple
and effective.