Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Family Practice and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The use of adherence aids by adults with diabetes: A cross-sectional survey

Benjamin Littenberg*, Charles D MacLean and Laurie Hurowitz

Author Affiliations

University of Vermont, General Internal Medicine, 371 Pearl Street, Burlington, Vermont, 05401, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Family Practice 2006, 7:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-7-1

Published: 5 January 2006



Adherence with medication taking is a major barrier to physiologic control in diabetes and many strategies for improving adherence are in use. We sought to describe the use of mnemonic devices and other adherence aids by adults with diabetes and to investigate their association with control of hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.


Cross sectional survey of diabetic adults randomly selected from Primary Care practices in the Vermont Diabetes Information System. We used linear regression to examine the associations between the use of various aids and physiologic control among subjects who used oral agents for hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension.


289 subjects (mean age 65.4 years; 51% female) used medications for all three conditions. Adherence aids were reported by 80%. The most popular were day-of-the-week pill boxes (50%), putting the pills in a special place (41%), and associating pill taking with a daily event such as a meal, TV show, or bedtime (11%). After adjusting for age, sex, marital status, income, and education, those who used a special place had better glycemic control (A1C -0.36%; P = .04) and systolic blood pressure (-5.9 mm Hg; P = .05) than those who used no aids. Those who used a daily event had better A1C (-0.56%; P = .01) than patients who used no aids.


Although adherence aids are in common use among adults with diabetes, there is little evidence that they are efficacious. In this study, we found a few statistically significant associations with adherence aids and better diabetes control. However, these findings could be attributed to multiple comparisons or unmeasured confounders. Until more rigorous evaluations are available, it seems reasonable to recommend keeping medicines in a special place for diabetic adults prescribed multiple medications.