Ability of older people with dementia or cognitive impairment to manage medicine regimens: a narrative review

Rohan A Elliott, Dianne Goeman, Christine Beanland, Susan Koch

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61 Citations (Scopus)


Impaired cognition has a significant impact on a person’s ability to manage their medicines. The aim of this paper is to provide a narrative review of contemporary literature on medicines management by people with dementia or cognitive impairment living in the community, methods for assessing their capacity to safely manage medicines, and strategies for supporting independent medicines management. Studies and reviews addressing medicines management by people with dementia or cognitive impairment published between 2003 and 2013 were identified via searches of Medline and other databases. The literature indicates that as cognitive impairment progresses, the ability to plan, organise, and execute medicine management tasks is impaired, leading to increased risk of unintentional non-adherence, medication errors, preventable medication-related hospital admissions and dependence on family carers or community nursing services to assist with medicines management. Impaired functional capacity may not be detected by health professionals in routine clinical encounters. Assessment of patients’ (or carers’) ability to safely manage medicines is not undertaken routinely, and when it is there is variability in the methods used. Self-report and informant report may be helpful, but can be unreliable or prone to bias. Measures of cognitive function are useful, but may lack sensitivity and specificity. Direct observation, using a structured, standardised performance-based tool, may help to determine whether a person is able to manage their medicines and identify barriers to adherence such as inability to open medicine packaging. A range of strategies have been used to support independent medicines management in people with cognitive impairment, but there is little high-quality research underpinning these strategies. Further studies are needed to develop and evaluate approaches to facilitate safe medicines management by older people with cognitive impairment and their carers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-221
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Clinical Pharmacology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Cognitive impairment
  • Dementia
  • Functional ability
  • Medicines management
  • Self-care

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