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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A simple chart can help older people taking multiple medications to stay organized, new research shows.
Taking drugs as prescribed can be a major challenge for anyone, let alone senior citizens, who must often keep track of several medications at once, Dr. Daniel Morrow of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the lead researcher on the study, told Reuters Health.
For example, one study found that half of older adults weren't taking their drugs as prescribed, he and his colleagues note in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
Making matters worse, health care providers rarely take the time to sit down with patients to help them plan their medication schedule, Morrow added. To address this problem, Morrow has developed "medtable," a chart for patients to fill out in collaboration with a health care provider.
It allows patients to incorporate instructions on taking a particular medication -- for example, with a meal, or a certain number of times a day -- into an easy-to-read chart. "We're trying to develop a well-designed collaborative aid that supports that critical communication with providers," he explained.
In the current study, Morrow and his team field-tested two versions of medtable by having pairs of older adults work together to create medication schedules using the table or a blank piece of paper.
In the first experiment, 96 men and women ranging in age from 56 to 84 paired up to use the original version of medtable, in which a row across the top listed events of the day (for example, "Wake up," "Breakfast," through to "Bedtime) and a column on the left side indicated medication and time to take it. One person acted as the health care provider while the other acted as the patient, and they worked together to make a schedule based on four different medication problems.
In the second experiment, completed by 64 seniors 60 to 86 years old, study participants worked with a table that had been revised to "more clearly represent task restraints."
In both experiments, the researchers found that pairs using medtable were able to create more accurate schedules than when using a blank piece of paper and they completed the task faster, as well.
Despite the encouraging results, Morrow noted, it will be necessary to test medtable in real life.
A pilot study enrolled 20 patients taking an average of nine medications each and 30 percent had inadequate health literacy. The patients -- who completed the chart with a nurse or pharmacist -- were "very enthusiastic," he added. He and his colleagues are now seeking funding for a study with people with diabetes, to determine if using medtable will improve blood glucose control.
This type of charting could be useful not only for patients working with doctors, Morrow added, but for a patient and his or her caregiver, or even couples who need help keeping track of their prescription drugs.
SOURCE: Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, September 2008.