Here’s What to Know When Choosing a Pill Organizer or Pill Dispenser

If you use multiple medications and think you don’t need a pill organizer or pill dispenser, think again.

“Pill organizers are often considered an ‘elderly’ item, but they can be very helpful for patients of all ages,” says Jenna Liphart Rhoads, a Green Bay, Wisconsin-based registered nurse, certified nurse educator and an advisor at the website Nurse Together.

Pill Organizers vs. Pill Dispensers

Pill organizers are containers you can use to group and manage your medications so that you stay on schedule. For instance, if you must take a certain pill on a Monday morning, it goes in the part of the container labeled for Monday a.m. Depending on the container, it may not specify the time of day; in that case, all of the pills are grouped together for the day.

Pill organizers can be simple and inexpensive, or they can be sophisticated and have technological bells and whistles.

Pill dispensers are a little different than organizers, says Dr. Samuel James, director of pharmacy services at Community Health of South Florida, Inc., in Miami. Pill dispensers automatically dispense tablets according to a dosage schedule inputted into the device. Smart pill dispensers may have Bluetooth connectivity, locking options and even medical alert functions for emergencies.

As you may imagine, these are pricier than a basic bill organizer. They could range from a couple hundred dollars into the thousands. Some of the pricier models ask for an upfront payment, or have a monthly subscription payment.

Some pill dispensers can even alert a loved one with a phone call if the person using the dispenser doesn’t take their pills at a certain time of day, which can be potentially lifesaving, says Urvi Kadakia, an occupational therapist in the rehabilitation department at Staten Island University Hospital in Staten Island, New York.

Who Should Use a Pill Organizer or Pill Dispenser?

You could benefit from using a pill organizer if you:

Use several medications each day. A pill organizer will help you make sure that you don’t skip or double doses by mistake, says Rachel Taylor, a registered nurse in Birmingham, Alabama.

Have arthritis or other physical issues that make it hard to access medicine in its original container.

Often forget whether or not you took a certain dosage of medication(s).

Have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In these cases, a pill dispenser that’s controlled by a caregiver is likely the best choice.

[Read: 13 Health Pros and Cons of Aspirin.]

What to Consider When Selecting a Pill Organizer or Dispenser

There are many types of pill organizers and dispensers, so you’ll want to give some thought to the best kind for you or someone in your care. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a pill organizer or dispenser:

Do you need something that’s easy to open? This is likely needed if you have arthritis, swollen hands or tremors, for instance. Some pill organizers have a push-button design so they are easier to open. Some also have extra-large components, which also could be useful.

What size are the pills? If the pills you use are larger, then extra-large compartments may be the way to do it, James says.

Are you forgetful about taking your medication? If so, an automated pill dispenser with an alarm may be a better choice. The same is true if you’re caring for someone who has a disease that affects the memory, Taylor says. On the other hand, a basic once- or twice-daily organizer will likely suffice if you don’t need a medication reminder, Kadakia says.

Do you take pills at more than one time of the day? If you do, then get an organizer that has separate pockets for pills used in the morning, afternoon and evening.

Is the information on the front of the container easy to read? Pill organizers may have some writing on them, such as the day of the week, the time of the day or sometimes a symbol to indicate morning use or evening use. You want to make sure you can easily read or view that information, Kadakia says.

If you’re not sure what type of pill organizer or dispenser is best for you, you can seek advice from a trusted doctor, nurse, pharmacist or occupational therapist.

[READ: Vitamins and Minerals: the Essentials for Women.]

The Best Pill Organizers and Dispensers

Best for Arthritis: EZY DOSE Weekly (7-day) Push Button Pill Organizer and Planner

Price: Under $10. Number of compartments: seven to 14.

Pros: Inexpensive, easy to use and has push buttons. Cons: Compartments may pop open when you want them to stay closed.

The EZY DOSE is a straightforward pill organizer with push buttons that are greater for those with carpal tunnel syndrome, swollen fingers or arthritis, Taylor says. The organizer is available for once-daily or twice-daily dosing. Each compartment holds up to 30 pills.

Best for Multiple Pill Usage: MEDca Weekly Pill Organizer, Four Times-a-Day, 1 Dispenser with Stackable AM/PM Compartments

Price: Under $10.

Number of compartments: Seven, each with four subcompartments. Pros: Allows you to organize your medication for up to four uses a day, and has removable trays.

Cons: Compartments are small.

The MEDca Weekly Pill Organizer allows you to organize your meds for up to four uses a day. This helps to cut out any confusion over whether you took your pills at a specific time of day. The organizer has pull-out, removable trays for each day. One drawback: The subcompartments are smaller, so they may be best for those who need fewer than five pills at a time, Taylor says.

Best for Larger Pills: Weekly Pill Organizer 7 Day 2 Times a Day, Sukuos Large Daily Pill Cases for Pills/Vitamin/Fish Oil/Supplements

Price: Under $10.

Number of compartments: seven. Pros: Has space for larger pills, and it comes with a protective case.

Cons: Only has subcompartments for twice-daily dosing.

If the pills you use are larger — think, for instance, of most fish oil capsules — then the Sukuos Large Daily Pill Case is a possible option. This brightly colored organizer has subcompartments that can each hold six fish-oil capsules, seven vitamins and 14 capsules.

Best for Travel: Chronically Chic Jet Setter 7-Day Pill Organizer Case

Price: Under $40.

Number of compartments: 28. Pros: Has compartments for multiple daily dosing, and has a protective case.

Cons: Case only available in pink.

Many travel-oriented pill organizers contain only one compartment a day, leaving room for error, Rhoads says. The Chronically Chic Jet Setter 7-Day Pill Organizer Case from Urban Outfitters counteracts this by having four compartments for each day. The compartments can be labeled in English, French and Spanish. The containers also come in a protective case so you don’t have to worry about them popping open, Rhoads says.

Best Lower-Priced Dispenser for Memory Issues: LiveFine 28-Day Automatic Pill Dispenser

Price: Under $100.

Number of compartments: 28. Pros: Dispenses pills when you need them, and has an alarm to signal when to take pills.

Cons: The alarm may get irritating, and you can only the dispenser up for 28 days versus a full month.

If you or someone you care for has memory issues, the LiveFine 28-Day Automatic Pill Dispenser can help because you can program it to dispense pills when you need them. You’re alerted to medication times with an alarm that can go off up to nine times a day. The pill dispenser operates on four AA batteries. The clock can operate on a 12- or 24-hour mode. The dispenser also has a locking key to prevent tampering.

5 Things to Keep in Mind With Pill Organizers and Dispensers

As helpful as a pill organizer or pill dispenser may be, it’s only as good as the human operating it. Here are five things to keep in mind when using these devices:

Give all your attention to loading your container properly. You’ll need to reload most pill organizers once a week. Make sure to check that you’re putting your pills in the right compartments, so you’re not setting yourself up for a double dose or a skipped dose. Read your medication bottles so you know the exact dosage and timing of what you’re using. Never refill your container when you’re sleep-deprived or under the influence of alcohol or drugs that may affect your ability to focus, Taylor cautions.

Know in advance about any medication interactions. There are certain medications that aren’t safe to use at the same time period or with certain food. This is something your health provider should discuss with you in advance, to make sure you avoid a medication interaction. If you’re not sure, talk to a health provider or pharmacist. Keep any medication interactions in mind when filling up your pill organizer or dispenser, so you don’t take those medications at the same time.

Make sure the technology works. While basic pill organizers are low- or no-tech, smart pill dispensers rely on technology. Periodically check batteries, charging or other tech-based operations so they’ll work when you need them.

Take your pills. All the organization in the world is useless if you don’t actually use your medications when you need them. If you have a pill organizer but still forget to use your meds, you may do better with a dispenser that has reminder alarms that can sync with a smartphone, for instance. Or, talk to your health provider about alternate options if you find you constantly forget to take your meds.

Talk to your health provider if you experience new side effects that may be medicationrelated. If you become more disciplined about using a pill organizer and taking your medications as needed, you may find that you experience new medication reactions that can be unsettling, James says. Share your concerns with your health provider to make sure these side effects are normal.

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Here’s What to Know When Choosing a Pill Organizer or Pill Dispenser originally appeared on usnews.com

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