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Memory aids - what you need to know

Things to look out for

If you're going to get yourself a memory aid gadget such as a pill box, alarm system or automatic pill dispenser - many examples of which are reviewed in our memory aid test reports - you need to make sure it's going to be right for you. Think about your abilities, your daily routine and what medicines you take, when. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Can you open it? Some containers are easier than others. Try them out if you can.
  • Can you see what it's for and how it works? With some pill boxes, it isn't clear which order to take the pills in. Some alarm systems can be confusing if you aren't sure what to do when the alarm goes off.
  • Can you get all your pills in? Some pill boxes have quite small compartments. If you have a lot of medicines, make sure you're going to be able to get them all in. The pictures accompanying our product reviews will give you an idea of their size - the 'pills' we used in the photos are 12mm (a fraction under half an inch) in diameter. 
  • What if you drop it? Some pill boxes open accidentally when you drop them, or can just open in your bag. If this happens, your pills can get mixed up or even lost.
  • What if the batteries run out? Most automatic dispensers, and alarm systems, run on batteries. If the battery runs out, you could be in trouble. The safest thing is to simply change the batteries regularly - check how long they are expected to last when you buy the equipment, and keep a record of when you change them.

Filling your pill box or dispenser

A large pill box or automatic dispenser can be really handy, but you need to know who is going to fill it for you. This is quite a big job, and it's important that whoever does it gets it right.

If you can get a friend or relative to do it for you, then that's great. They can do it once a week or, if you have spare boxes or trays, they can do it every few weeks.

If you have a professional carer who comes from the council or the NHS, or who you pay for yourself, they can sort out your medicine for you - but they have to be careful to follow some rules. Basically, they have to do a proper risk assessment and set out what they are going to do to make sure nothing goes wrong. They should speak to the Care Quality Commission about what they need to do.

Pharmacists are allowed to fill dispensers, as long as they give you all the packaging and leaflets from the medicines. Ask your pharmacist if they will. They're not obliged to, and most will charge you a small fee.

Whoever fills it, always make sure your pharmacist knows you are using a pill box. Some medicines may not be suitable.

Last updated: February 2010

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