‘Smart packaging’ technology could make taking medication easier for older adults

WATERLOO, Canada — It’s often difficult for elderly adults to properly and consistently take their medications, but a new study finds “smart packaging” may offer a solution. Even better, study authors from the University of Waterloo report older adults are very open to trying smart packaging for their daily meds.

Smart medication packaging is used to electronically monitor exactly when patients take their medications. In the event a prescribed course of medication is not followed as advised, the technology within the packaging sends out a signal notifying the patient and or their caregiver.

It may sound like micro-management, but it’s estimated that roughly half of patients living in developed nations with chronic diseases fail to take their meds as advised. With the global population continuing to age, and many elderly individuals requiring multiple prescriptions on a daily basis, medication non-adherence among older adults is a major, widespread problem.

Over the last two decades, however, a litany of new telehealth technology has emerged capable of tackling this problem. Examples range from reminder apps on smartphones to more complex at-home medication dispensing devices.

“Many of these products are advertised as user-friendly and efficient, but not all are tested with seniors in mind. So how would we know if older adults are able to use them for their day-to-day medication intake and are there any factors that can impact their in-home utilization?” says lead study author Sadaf Faisal, a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, in a statement.

‘Smart packaging’ pros and cons

A total of 10 study participants (average age: 76) were studied within their homes for this project. The average studied subject was taking 11 medications for at least five chronic diseases. Each subject was given a smart blister pack that linked up with a web portal to record each time they opened a blister to take their medications.

Study subjects were also interviewed to get their opinions and experiences using the smart blister package technology. One survey section asked participants to rate the usability of the technology in comparison to standardized scales typically used in product assessment.

“Across participants, we found fairly consistent pros and cons to the technology,” explains study co-author Tejal Patel, a pharmacy professor. “The ability to learn the product easily was important for the participants to use it consistently. Feedback from their social circle – such as supportive children, partners or health-care providers – also helped reinforce using the technology.”

Generally speaking, older adults more comfortable with newer technologies were more open-minded about using and liking the smart blister packs. That being said, both device size and portability problems were cited as annoying downsides. Moreover, if the device mis-performed in any way, such as sending out a reminder one day but not another, subjects reported feeling frustrated. Of course, cost is also a consideration. Participants said they would be less likely to use such devices if they’re not covered by a drug plan or funded by the government.

“For technology to be effective, it has to be accepted by the end-users,” Faisal concludes. “Smart, technology-based adherence products have the potential to support patients, but health-care providers should assess older adults’ medication intake behaviors and barriers and facilitators to using a product before recommending them.”

The study is published in PLoS ONE.

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