Family Living Focus: Pill organizers help keep track of multiple medications

Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota

Studies indicate that 78 percent of caregivers performing medical or nursing tasks also are managing multiple medications for a loved one. Thirty-one percent of the care population takes one to five medications; 46 percent, five to nine; and 18 percent, 10 or more medications. It’s no big secret to caregivers that organization is key when keeping track of medications, their doses, refills, timing, etc. It can be a big job in itself. In fact, a study by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that 60 percent of caregivers made errors when sorting medications into pill boxes.

Weekly organizers are the most common, but monthly ones are available. These all can be bought in a variety of sizes, colors, labeling methods, etc. For those with minor memory issues, a morning/evening organizer may provide enough direction. A loved one with more advanced memory impairment might find help in other options, such as a prescription bottle that tracks and tells caregivers if the day’s doses have been removed.

Electronic pill organizers are becoming more popular and help by issuing an actual alarm when it’s time to take the medication, as well as have a service place a phone call to the caregiver if a dosage is missed. This is a good option for busy caregivers who can pre-load the pills but have some reassurance that the following steps are completed. This is also a help to someone with vision loss, who may not be able to see traditional pill box markings or times on a clock.

Another innovative device on the market is a vibrating pill reminder that has large compartments which fit all a loved one’s medications. Programmable alarms help them stay on track and can be set for either audio or vibrating options. Severe memory-impaired loved ones truly need one-on-one human interaction for medication administration, though some aging service organizations offer reminder phone calls to those with memory concerns.

Blister packs also are available in different shapes and sizes and have a list of pros and cons. While they are a nice option for someone with a steady medication regimen, for a loved one that is changing meds often, it can become a costly and time-consuming endeavor. The most practical use is a one-week supply in a single card that is organized into morning, noon, evening, and bedtime doses. Pharmacies traditionally will dispense four cards at a time, for a month’s worth of pills organized neatly into pop-out compartments.

Blister packs can also be purchased privately, for refilling directly by a caregiver. The bonus to this is that caregivers can add over-the-counter medications such as aspirin. A pharmacy may charge extra for this service. All this said, a caregiver should have a solid relationship with their loved one’s pharmacist. Some pharmacies routinely will sort the pills, while others offer education on the best way to get started. Caregivers also should keep updated lists of all a loved one’s medicines and have a copy with themselves and the person they are caring for. 

Pill organizers can be found anywhere and in many configurations. Before making any purchase, a caregiver must consider their and their loved one’s lifestyle, limitations and abilities.


Information adapted from article by Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer in Today’s Caregiver, January 14, 2014 – Issue #679.

If you would like more information on “Pill Organizers” contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus – University of Minnesota at waldn001@umn.edu. Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.