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Memory aids - pill boxes, alarms & dispensers

Pill boxes

Weekly pill dispenserPill boxes are little boxes with lids that snap shut. They have compartments so you can separate pills to be taken at different times. Sometimes, the compartments are labelled.

Daily boxes hold your medicines for the day. Most have four compartments. Some have up to eight.

Weekly boxes hold enough for the whole week. Smaller ones have one or two compartments for each day. Larger ones have four. Some consist of a box or wallet with seven removable daily pill boxes inside, so that you can take just a day's medicines out with you.

Most pill boxes have see-through lids, so you can tell straight away if you've missed a tablet. Make sure you know what to do if you miss a dose.

Which end is which?

You need to be sure that you'll take your medicines in the right order. This can be tricky if you get confused. Sometimes the compartments are numbered, or labelled with times of the day; some have braille labelling.

Some daily pill boxes are especially confusing because, when you hold them horizontally, the morning compartment is on the right (but you might expect it to be on the left).

Alarm systems

Medicine alarm systemYou can get an alarm that can be set to go off at several times during the day. Some alarms just beep or vibrate. Others display a message on a small screen. One we tested plays a pre-recorded message through a small speaker.

Some alarms can be set to go off up to eight times a day.

Some daily and weekly pill boxes have built-in alarms.

Can you hear the beep?

For an alarm system to work, you need to be able to hear it. This may affect which one you choose, as some are louder than others and some have vibrating alarms. How loud the alarm is may also affect the way you can use it - you might need to make sure it is in the same room as you.

See our memory aid test reports for what each alarm system does, and for pictures of what each looks like.

Automatic pill dispensers

Automatic pill dispenserSome pill boxes automatically dispense the medicine when the alarm goes off. These can be set to dispense pills several times a day. Most have 28 compartments, so you can have up to four a day, for a week (or one a day, for four weeks).

You, or someone who helps you, can fill the trays at home, or you can get a chemist to do it. You can get extra trays so that you can use one at home while the other is being filled by the chemist. For more information, see our notes on filling your pill box or dispenser.

These dispensers can be used as part of a telecare system.

Automatic dispensers are not really suitable if you're going to go out during the day. They are too bulky to take with you and you can't take the day's medicines out of the dispenser before you go.

Last updated: February 2010

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