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Funding for project to help older people with sensory impairment to manage their medication

Foil packets containing multi-coloured medicine capsules

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have been awarded funding for a project that aims to help older people with sensory impairment manage their medication.

Older people with visual or hearing impairments are more likely to be taking more than one medication and live alone and are therefore at risk of medication problems.

Difficulties with medication can include problems identifying similar-looking pills, reading labels and information sheets or mis-hearing information provided by health professionals.

The two-year £257,000 study, called SIPA2, is funded by Dunhill Medical Trust and will see researchers from the University of Strathclyde, The Research Institute for the Care of Older People, the University of the Highlands and Islands, and Designability analyse images, text and spoken word to map user and professional journeys around medication, as well as providing volunteers with cameras to directly observe how they interact with their medicines throughout their day.

The project will:

  • convene a Project Advisory Group of individuals, including older people with sensory impairment, to work together to derive specifications for desirable characteristics for new products which might assist in the use of medicines
  • review technology which is or could be used by older people with sensory impairment to safely and effectively manage their use of medicine
  • develop educational materials for health and social care providers involved with medicines management for older people with sensory impairment.

Incorrect dosage

Lead researcher Professor Margaret Watson, of the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said: “Many older people require multiple medicines and the more they use the more it is likely to be a problem.

“When combined with sensory impairment and the fact that many older people live alone, this means there is an increased risk of inappropriate medicine use which could result in less benefit and greater harm from their medicine, through missed doses or incorrect dosage.”

Highland resident Anne MacLean, 79, is a patient member of the Project Advisory Group who is registered blind, uses a wheelchair and has a guide dog. She has a heart condition that requires the use of four medicines every day and also uses eye drops daily, all of which she administers herself.

She says that the packaging of the medicines can be problematic and that if she lived alone, like an increasing number of older people, she would need help to order and obtain her medicines.

Anne said: “This research is important because it will help to educate prescribers about the appropriate selection and use of medicines for people with sensory impairment.

“Whilst it is very important that health care professionals don't assume that just because someone has a sensory impairment, that they are not capable of doing something for themselves, it is also very important to check that they have the support they need, including obtaining and using their medicines. 

For example, it would be helpful if the research encourages or enables pharmacists to check that someone with visual impairment knows how to use a newly prescribed medicine.”

Maximum benefit

Irene Oldfather, Director Strategic Partnerships and Engagement at Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) and chair of the Project Advisory Group said: “Ensuring that older people with sensory impairment use their medicines correctly, on time, and at appropriate intervals, ensures they derive the maximum benefit and opportunity from their prescribed medicines. 

“This research will explore a range of  tools and interventions to support patients to use their medicines in a safe and effective way. This research will also identify ways in which health and social care professionals can adopt more holistic, person-centred approaches to help older people, especially those with sensory impairment, with their medicines in order to optimise their health and wellbeing.”