Teaching patients to imagine taking their medications helps them to remember to do so later, researchers reported on Friday.
Older adults who spent a few minutes picturing how they would test their blood sugar were 50 percent more likely to actually do the tests on a regular basis than those who used other memory techniques, the study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, found.
“Getting older people to remember to take their medications and conduct self-monitoring tests is a huge issue,” said Denise Park of the University of Illinois, who worked on the study.
“Although many strategies have been tried, none appears to be as potent or as simple as using one’s own imagination. This study shows it’s a powerful and incredibly inexpensive technique with potentially lasting effects,” Park added in a statement.
Park and Linda Liu of the University of Michigan taught 31 non-diabetic volunteers aged 60 to 81 to do home blood glucose tests. They wanted to simulate the learning conditions faced by someone who is newly diagnosed with a disease.
Writing in the journal Psychology and Aging, they said the blood sugar monitors recorded each time patients gave themselves a test.
A third of their volunteers spent one three-minute session visualizing exactly what they would be doing and where they would be the next day when they were scheduled to test their blood sugar levels.
A second group repeatedly recited aloud the instructions for testing their blood, while the third group was asked to write a list of pros and cons for testing blood sugar.
Over the next 3 weeks, the volunteers who imagined testing their blood remembered 76 percent of the time to test their blood sugar at the right times of the day.
This compared to an average of 46 percent in the other two groups.
“This is an innovative study. It presents an unusual but apparently very effective way to use imagination as a memory tool to help older adults more successfully follow medical instructions,” said Jeffrey Elias of the NIA’s Behavioral and Social Research Program.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.