Pill Organizers Can Cause More Harm Than Good

Although designed to make taking medications simple and easy to remember, pill organizers could spell trouble for older adults.

Although designed to make taking medications simple and easy to remember, pill organizers could spell trouble for older adults.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in England found that switching from usual packing to a pill organizer is linked with a higher risk of becoming unwell in the elderly.

“The fact that using a pill organizer could cause patients to experience adverse effects from their medication sounds rather counterintuitive,” lead researcher Debi Bhattacharya, PhD, from UEA’s School of Pharmacy, said in a news release.

In a survey including 288 people at least 75 years old taking three or more medications, the team found that one-third were using pill organizers. As for the rest of the cohort, almost half were not taking their medication as prescribed by mistake and a quarter didn’t seem to be taking their medication as prescribed on purpose.

Twenty-nine of the 80 patients who were not using a pill organizer and were not taking their medication as prescribed by mistake were selected to participate in a trial. Over six weeks, half of the patients continued taking their medications from the original packaging, while the other half switched to a pill organizer.

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“We found that on average, when patients who had previously taken their medication sporadically were switched to a pill organizer, they took all of their medication and became unwell whilst those who remained on usual medication packaging did not have any adverse effects,” Bhattacharya continued.

Five adverse events were reported among those using the pill organizer, while the packaging group didn’t report any. These adverse events included three falls, one hypoglycemic episode (low blood glucose), and one temporary incapacitation (patient didn’t feel well and couldn’t get out of the bath for 12 hours until rescued).

But why is it that a product meant to help medication adherence is also associated with adverse events?

“It is likely that because the patients had been taking their medication sporadically, they weren’t getting the expected health improvements. The doctor may therefore have increased the dose of the medication to try to get the desired effect,” Bhattacharya said. Therefore, when a patient switches to a pill organizer, they could be taking more of the medication than they were before which results in side effects — even if they are considered normal which a specific medication.

The good news here is that pill organizers appear to help do what they’re intended for — to help patients take their medication as prescribed. But while the researchers don’t suggest that people using a pill organizer forego the practice, they do advise that patients consult their doctor or pharmacist if they’re thinking about switching to it.

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