Visually impaired people are more than twice as likely to need help with medication management. Use these tips for medication labels, storage, and administration.
Depending on how many treatments someone uses, an individual’s medication routine can range from simple to complex. However, even the most straightforward medication routines can become challenging for someone with a visual impairment. A recent study shows that visually impaired people are more than twice as likely to need help with medication management.
If you are partially sighted, experience limited vision, or have blindness, it’s important to take special care to ensure you have all the tools and support needed to safely store and dispense medication and reduce the chance of dangerous errors. This guide can help you or someone you know safely self-manage prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
General tips for effective medication management for the visually impaired
While the type and level of vision loss range from person to person, these basic strategies can help keep medications safely organized and stored and make it easier to differentiate between them.
Medication list (prescription and over-the-counter)
Keeping a current list of medications is perhaps the most important plan for managing medications with a disability. This list should be accessible to the patient taking the medications and easy to share with caregivers and healthcare providers. Using braille or a text-to-speech app on a phone or computer can make it easy to read the list at any time, and this list should be updated whenever a medication is added, removed, or adjusted. Be sure to include both prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) meds.
Safe storage and organization
Medications must both be easy enough to access by the patient but not so easily accessible that they cause a dangerous situation for others in the home, such as children or pets. Using a basket or bin for medicines taken daily and a separate one for those used just occasionally may be a good idea. Just ensure they are up on a higher shelf, out of reach, or in a medicine cabinet with a simple unlocking mechanism.
Keeping medicine in the original bottles or boxes is always safer and can prevent confusion. If there are no children in the home, ask a pharmacist for an easy-open lid.
Those with limited vision may find it helpful to mark the caps of each bottle with prominent symbols in a different color or use stickers that can be easily identifiable. If this isn’t an option, wrapping rubber bands around the bottles can help signify different medications. For example, use one rubber band for a morning medicine, two for an evening dose, etc.
Adding notes about the shape, size, and texture of their pills to the medication list can help in the event pills do get mixed up. If there is ever any uncertainty, don’t take a medication you are unsure of. Tactile markers in various textures and shapes make it easy to differentiate bottles and boxes. Just be sure to keep track of what med goes with which marker, which can be indicated on your medication list
Timed or automatic pill dispenser
A timed pill organizer makes it easier if you take too many pills to keep them in their original containers. These organizers come in large print and braille versions and audible notifications. If filling the organizer yourself, do it over a tray with raised edges to catch dropped pills before they end up on the floor.
Today’s pill dispensers are very innovative; some can be filled and left for up to a month. They even connect to Wi-Fi and come with daily reminders for your phone or voice assistant like Alexa or Nest.
Daily use reminders
Regardless of visual abilities, some people need help remembering to take their meds. Setting up a system that works both in the home and while away can ensure you don’t miss an important dose.
Applications and alarms
If you want to use tech in the simplest way possible, a reminder app on your smartphone connected to a smartwatch will work. Many fitness trackers even come with silent alarms that you can set for the different times of day you take your medications.
Medicines interact with one another in ways that can be difficult to understand and track. While some meds can be taken at any time of day, others may keep you up at night or make you too drowsy during the day. Others aren’t as effective when taken too close to other medicines.
If you only have a few medications, knowing which ones to take when can be easy, but if it ends up being too much to plan out on your own, reach out to your pharmacist. They can set up a schedule of medicines that helps you be productive during the day and well-rested at night. They can also advise you of any food or drinks to avoid that could interfere with the ingredients in your prescriptions and OTC meds.
Understanding the drug label
Much of the information you need to know is printed on the label of your medicine. OTC meds usually have a “Drug Facts” label that lists important information. In addition, prescription drugs may have labels with similar information. Being able to see and read it can be a challenge for those with visual impairments, but there are ways to stay informed.
Large print instructions on your medicine bottles or braille can give you the information you need to understand your meds.
Some pharmacies may include this information on a barcode or QR code that can be scanned with an app and read aloud from a text-to-speech application. Ask your pharmacy if this is something they offer.
How does your medicine work when used with other medications or foods? Your medicine may have potential drug interactions that may be labeled on your medicine package. It may be printed larger than other information or come as a sticker. Grapefruit and milk, for example, are two foods that can disrupt how medications work.
Serious interactions may occur outside of what’s on the label, however. You may want to accept the consultation offered by the pharmacist every time you get a new prescription, and inform them of your visual impairment. Not only can they explain how each particular medication interacts with other common treatments, but they may also be familiar with OTC eye drops or medicines most commonly used by those with visual impairments. Their experience is valuable.
Understanding common medications of visually impaired people
The blind or visually impaired can create systems to keep medication safely stored and take it at the right time. Knowing more about your most commonly-used prescriptions and OTC treatments may reduce the chance of medication errors.
Medications that are taken daily, such as eye drops or moisturizers, should be set aside from other medications. Any medications you access more often should be easy to get to and recognize. Learn to recognize the basic size and shape of the bottles to be easily recognized by touch and feel. This helps to tell them apart from other medicines you take frequently.
Blood glucose meters, while not technically a medication, are also common. Knowing how to use them properly with impaired vision is vital, but even experienced users may struggle to see the results. Consider a meter designed for those with visual impairments.
Such devices include voice readouts that audibly tell results and feature large buttons with raised surfaces. Some visually impaired patients may prefer continuous monitoring devices that stay affixed to the skin, take blood samples, and deliver the results wirelessly to a phone app without needing strips.
How to give medication to people who are visually impaired
In general, helping visually impaired patients with their medication is the same for those without vision problems. You would practice the same care in tracking doses, giving the right amounts, and keeping items stored properly. You’ll also want to carefully follow any plan in place for when you’re not around; keeping meds sorted and labeled is very important; you should adhere to the system the visually impaired person or their healthcare provider has created and not cause any disruption.
If you are responsible for picking up or re-ordering prescriptions, be sure to communicate to the pharmacist the needs of the visually impaired patient. They can often advise on the best way to help.
Ways people who are visually impaired take medication
We may think of taking medication as swallowing a pill whole, but there are other ways to take meds that may be difficult for those with vision issues. In general, you should avoid having to split pills, unless the healthcare provider instructs you to do so. Splitting pills may cause a person to take the wrong dose or even lose medication.
Ask the pharmacists if they special order pills in the right dosage or recommend a compound pharmacy specializing in uncommon dosages in a single pill instead of splitting pills.
Liquid medication should come with a dispenser, but if it doesn’t, ask for one. Pharmacists can provide the right-sized syringe or spoon for the medicine, which you can mark with a sticker or braille marker to help you know which medicine it goes to.
Medicines taken by injection should be premeasured. Just be sure they are correctly labeled and marked so that a visually impaired person can recognize them by touch and not by sight alone.
When to reach out to a medical team
Medication for the visually impaired is often the same medicine everyone else takes. It should always be taken as prescribed and only by the person it was prescribed for. If you experience any of the following, you should report concerns to a healthcare provider immediately. They can be instrumental in adjusting doses or refilling prescriptions, as well as advising in the case of an emergency.
If you need a refill
When you run out of medication, a call to the pharmacy should be enough to get a refill. However, if you’re out of refills, you may need to call your healthcare team and discuss what’s required for approval. They may want you to come in for a checkup or follow-up visit, so plan ahead when getting refills so you don’t run out first.
If you spill or lose a dose
It’s common to drop a pill or miss a dose occasionally. In most cases, you can take the missed dose if it’s close to the scheduled time or take it the following day. However, missing too many doses can be detrimental to your health. If you notice that you lost medicine, call your pharmacist right away to see what you should do. It may just be a matter of moving up your refill date by a day or so, but since insurance can dictate when you get refills, the pharmacy may need to come up with another solution.
If medicine is administered incorrectly
Medication errors happen, and they may not be life-threatening. To know for sure if a mistake will affect your health, consult with your pharmacist or doctor, especially if you’re concerned about any of the following:
- You took your dose at the wrong time of day
- You missed a dose
- You took too much of a dose or took a dose twice
- You don’t remember if you took a dose
In addition, always consult with a healthcare provider or pharmacist if someone in your household took your medicine, even if they take a similar medication. Older people, pets, guide dogs, and children are especially at risk of harm from medication mistakes, so don’t delay reaching out to seek advice.
If your healthcare provider or pharmacist isn’t available, a quick call to the Poison Control Center can give you the guidance you need. Their number is 1-800-222-1222, and they can get you in contact with local poison control authorities in your area.
If there are signs of an allergic reaction
Even if you’ve been taking the same medications for years, it’s possible to develop an allergy. What are the signs? Look for these symptoms, and reach out to your healthcare provider right away. They can help you decide if going to an emergency room is best. If you can’t reach your provider, call 911.
- Rash, hives, or itchy skin
- Swelling of the tongue, mouth, or face
Any signs of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) may require a call to 911. They include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden change in blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Vomiting or nausea
- Weak or fast pulse
Be sure to inform emergency responders of your visual impairment so that they are ready for you when they arrive. If you are having someone take you to the emergency room, let the admitting team know about your visual needs and any issues you have related to them.