Annie "Jeanette" Jenkins is getting a little help in remembering to take her pills.

Once a day, a medication-dispensing machine announces, "Time for your medication. Push the red button to dispense."

Philips Medication DispenserThe 76-year-old Newport News resident is one of 10 people to try out a Philips Medication Dispenser offered by Riverside Health System.

The dispenser, initially offered to Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, participants, is now available to anyone on the Peninsula who subscribes to the service.

It's the latest product or service offered by area health systems to help seniors stay in their homes if that's where they want to be, said Jim Janicki, a Riverside Health System spokesman.

Several years ago, Riverside, Sentara Healthcare and Bon Secours Hampton Roads started offering Lifeline, a bracelet or pendant device that allows someone to call for help by pressing a button. Bon Secours has since switched to a similar service called Guardian Alert.

Sentara and Bon Secours later added telemonitoring, a service Riverside plans to roll out next month.

People who enroll will get equipment to check their vital signs, including blood pressure, pulse, weight and blood-oxygen levels, at home. That information is monitored and tracked over time.

"So that daughter in California can see how Mom's doing," said Kim Weitzenhofer, of Riverside's Lifelong Health and Aging Related Services.

That service would benefit people with health issues such as congestive heart failure, hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said Anita Fredericks, a Riverside home-care nurse who oversees the medication dispensers.

The medication machine is available for a subscription of $70 a month. Discounts are available for couples or when bundled with Lifeline, Weitzenhofer said.

In providing these in-home services, Riverside offers a variety of options to seniors besides moving into an often-pricey retirement community or nursing home.

Assisted living averages $2,860 a month, and a nursing home averages $5,885 a month for a private room, according to Genworth Financial's 2009 Cost of Care survey for Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

Besides, many people don't want to leave their longtime homes.

"We just understand that we need to take care of people right through the end of life," Janicki said.

The medication device is helpful for patients who are on a lot of medications or who have memory problems, he said.

"They might take their medications two and three times in one day and not realize it," Janicki said. "People use pill boxes, but if they can't remember what day it is, what good is that?"

The device is programmed to hold up to 60 doses of medications in small cups, handling up to six doses per day.

The machine announces when it's time to take medications. The pills are dispensed when the red button is pushed. If the red button isn't pushed, the message is repeated every minute for 45 minutes. That's followed by loud beeps. After an hour goes by, the device alerts a call center, which notifies the person's caregiver, Janicki said.

"How 'bout that? I get told on," Jenkins said jokingly.

The device was also programmed to remind her when to take eye drops. Jenkins said she wasn't having trouble remembering to take her medications, but she realizes that time might come.

"Sometimes I'd forget now, but it's only normal, I think," she said.

The services provided by PACE, including the medication dispenser, helps keep her living on her own, rather than relying on family.

"I like to be independent," she said.

Want to know more?
Call (757) 856-7030 for more information about the medication device or Lifeline.



Published: January 17, 2010