Complete Guide to Pill Dispensers


Does your loved one struggle to take their medications on time? Do you feel stressed trying to remind them to take their pills as directed? If so, a basic or automatic pill dispenser may help you. Dispensers are especially valuable for seniors who take numerous different medications. As many seniors take more than five or even ten medications every day, dispensers can make life much easier. When seniors don't take their medications as directed, there can be dire health consequences. Here are a few reasons why a senior may struggle to keep up with their pill schedule:

  • The instructions seem too complicated.

  • They don't understand why the medication is necessary, so they don't take it.

  • They struggle to remember if or when they took their pills.

  • They have difficulty opening pill bottles.

  • They find it difficult reading prescription labels.

  • They forget to renew their prescriptions.

Pill dispensers can help prevent each of these scenarios and alleviate the stress of caregivers who worry about their loved one's medication adherence.


Types of Pill Dispensers

  • Pill organizers: Plastic containers divided into different compartments for different days (sometimes with sections for morning, noon, evening, and night within each day compartment). These organizers may be for one-week or one-month time spans. These are ideal for seniors who do well remembering to take their medications but want a little assistance organizing their doses just in case.

  • Pill boxes with alarms: Similar to basic pill organizers, but also enable you to set visual or audible reminders (alarms can usually be set to go off up to four or six times per day).

  • Automatic pill dispensers: A locked system programmed to notify the user and release just the right pills at exactly the right times. Some models can even send a text, phone call, or other notification to the patient or caregiver if a dose is missed.

What to Consider When Choosing a Dispenser

For most seniors and caregivers, price is a key factor when choosing between pill dispensers. Note that Medicaid may cover medication management services in some states but Medicare will not. Other than cost, consider these factors when choosing a pill dispenser:


Ease of Use:

  • Is it simple to load pills?

  • If it's electronic, how easy is it to set the clock and alarm?

  • Does the clock have a large, easy-to-read display?

  • Are buttons labeled and simple to use?

  • How are the pills dispensed? (press a button, open a lid, or flip the dispenser upside down?)

Functional Attributes:

  • How many pills can the dispenser hold?

  • Can it fit larger pills or tablets?

  • Can it accommodate multiple doses per day?

  • Do alarms use visual cues like flashing lights and/or audible reminders?

  • Can you record a familiar voice to use as the alarm?

  • Are the alarms likely to capture attention without scaring the user?

  • Are there different volume settings?

  • Can the alarms be turned off?

  • Can the dispenser be locked?

  • Is it easy to break into the dispenser when it's locked? (Some seniors with cognitive impairment may be tempted to try.)

  • Can it alert a caregiver when a dose is due or when one gets missed?

  • Does it require a phone line or Internet connection?

  • Is the medicine dispenser designed to be carried around?

  • How heavy is it?

  • Can it be taken along on outings or errands?

5 Great Dispensers and Organizers:


1. MedMinder

  • Electronic pill dispenser that looks like a standard organizer with a rectangular tray and 28 compartments.

  • At set times, the alarm sounds and the right compartment lights up to indicate it should be opened (other compartments are locked so only the appropriate one can be opened at the set time).

  • A custom message in a familiar voice can be recorded to use as the alarm.

  • If the user doesn't take their pills out of the tray, a reminder notification or phone call can be sent (caregivers can also receive a phone call, email, or text).

  • MedMinder is a subscription-based service, as the device connects to MedMinder's central monitoring center, which allows a caregiver to remotely program pill times, set reminders, and monitor doses. The user only needs to plug the device in (no phone line, computer, or internet access required).

  • Lifting the main lid allows all compartments to be loaded at once.

  • For a fee, MedMinder also offers to send pre-filled trays with the appropriate medications that can be easily loaded.

2. Sagely Smart Weekly Pill Organizer

  • Seven containers each have two large compartments that are color-coded and can be used for morning and afternoon or for two different weeks.

  • The containers attach to a tray with magnets for stability but can be lifted out and taken on trips.

  • Lids have holes for simple loading and are flexible enough for seniors to open easily.

  • Does not have a physical alarm, but if the user has a smartphone, he or she can connect to the free Sagely app that can be set to send reminders.

3. MedCenter System Monthly Pill Organizer

  • Can organize a whole month's worth of medications (31 individual pillboxes with four compartments each)

  • Has talking alarm clock with two volume settings and a very large display, which can be set to use either a beeping sound or a voice reminder.

  • After taking their pills, a user presses a large red button to confirm it's done and turn off the alarm.

  • Opening and filling 124 separate compartments is quite time-consuming and this unit is a bit large.

4. MedELert Automatic Pill Dispenser

  • This automatic dispenser has 28 separate slots with 6 different dose rings so scheduling can be customized (from one dose a day to six doses a day).

  • Has alarm that can be set as a flashing light, audible beep, or both.

  • When the alarm goes off, the user tips the dispenser to pour the pills into their hand, turning off the alarm.

  • Can also be locked (great for seniors with memory issues).

5. MedReady 1700 Medication Dispenser

  • Automated with 28 slots for medications and a lockable lid (which comes with two keys so two caregivers could each have one)

  • Includes audible alarm that can be set for up to four times daily.

  • Durable and easy to load.