They say an elephant never forgets. Maybe that’s true, but no elephant has to organize their own daily medication regimen. Such a task might push the cognitive powers of even the brightest pachyderm in the pack. We pill-popping humans have to do this all the time. This article is about the simple tools available to help you to remember to take your prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
In the medical circles in which I move, we talk about “adherence” and “compliance” with medication therapy. Those are just fancy ways of asking “Did Mr. Pillman remember to take his medication?” The fact is that “Mr. Pillman” often does not. Statistically Mr. Pillman doesn’t even get that new prescription filled 20% – 30% of the time. He fills his prescription, but doesn’t continue it up to 50% of the time. Most concerning is that, according to the CDC, forgetting (or refusing) to take prescriptions properly probably causes 125,000 Mr. Pillmans to die every year.
Do you take one or more medications every day? Have you ever missed a dose? I do. And I have. I’m not a perfect patient. But I’m going to share with you a few tips that have helped patients (like me) remember to take their medications on time every day.
As a pharmacist I have been talking to patients about the importance of taking medications regularly for many years. One thing I have learned is that there is no “one perfect system” for everyone. What may work well for you may not work so well for others. That being said, I have noticed that patients who have NO system in place tend to miss doses more often than others.
The following is a brief list of just some of the tools and resources available. Do you use one of these? Do you have another system that works better for you? PLEASE feel free to share it in the comment section below. Your tip may be just the right solution for someone else!
A MEDICATION ORGANIZER
Sometimes referred to as a “pill box” this is probably the single most effective tool in my experience to help you remember to take your medication. These come in different shapes and sizes. If you only take 1 medication every day, you can probably get by with a very simple version that simply has 7 compartments for the week. Ideally you will want to get into the habit of filling this every week on the same day and at the same time.
For patients with more complex medication regimens, you may need to purchase a more flexible and versatile type of medication box. The type I like best have at least 4 compartments for each day (to accommodate up to 4 different times of day). I also prefer a box that will allow a single day to be removed and carried with you when needed. They should have good closing snaps and the compartments should be large enough to hold all the pills that you take. Finally, I personally prefer a system that allows for a full month to be set up in advance.
An example of a great medication box is the MedCenter 31 day pill organizer. As long as the pills that you take are not too large, and as long as you don’t take more than say 8 to 10 pills at each time, this type of system can be very effective. There are many different pill organizers on the market. Avoid the “cheapies” that have flimsy tops and clasps that end up breaking or wearing out within a few months.
A MEDICATION LIST
Another method to help you remember to take all your medications is simply to rely on a well-organized medication list. Everyone should have a list of their medications. But as a tool to help you remember to take all your pills it is usually a good idea to have a SPECIAL list that tells you exactly when each medicine should be taken. You can easily make such a list on your own. Simply take a normal 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and turn it sideways. Draw a table with 4 columns labeled Morning, Noon, Evening and Bedtime. Then just write down, under each column, the names of the medicines you take at that time along with how many pills.
This list, once complete, can be used as a guide to follow in your daily routine. This system is especially good for someone who is on many medications and for whom it is not practical to divide up the pills into medication boxes. You can leave your medicine in the bottles that you get from the pharmacy. Ideally keep them all together in a single plastic tote. Just sit down with your list and a large glass of water. Go through the list and take your medications one at a time. When finished, put all your pills back into the tote, along with your list.
I have created a very simple FREE version of such a list that you can print just CLICK THIS LINK: Medication List 2 Page
PUT IT BEFORE YOU
Another common tool to help you remember to take your medication is simply to put it near something you will see and use every day. This is especially useful if you only take 1 or 2 meds daily. How about storing you medication next to your coffee pot or coffee cup? Maybe next to where you keep your dishes? How about in that dish or bucket with your car keys? How about on top of that book that you read every morning or evening? Have you heard the expression “out of sight, out of mind?” That applies to prescription medications too. Keep it where you can see it.
USE THE CALENDAR
The above tips can all be combined with the simple use of a calendar for keeping track of whether you took your medication or not. For many patients, a simple calendar is all they need to record the fact that they have taken their pills that day. Calendars are wonderful tools for keeping a record of our health. They can be used to record your blood pressure or blood sugar (if you monitor these things at home). They can be useful to document your level of pain (typically on a scale of 1 to 10). And they can be used to note that you took your medication. Do you take medications at several times throughout the day? A check mark need the top, middle or bottom of each calendar day can be a quick and easy way to document the fact that you took your medications on that day and time.
HIGH TECH SOLUTIONS
Finally, there are a variety of more “high tech” solutions to medication reminder systems. For example, I wrote an article a while back on the MedMinder system. Additionally, there are a variety of medication reminder apps available for smart phones or tablets. You will find dozens if not hundreds of them by a simple search on your smart phone. But here is my concern: apps come and go. Websites come and go. I’ve been researching these things long enough now that I rarely recommend any of those “free” apps as a primary tool. Yes, some of them work great. And if that is what works for you, then by all means please use them. But if I were setting up a system for a loved one to help them remember to take their medication I would probably not want to rely on a free tool downloaded from the internet. That’s just my opinion.
A WORD ABOUT SAFETY
Whatever tool you use to help you remember to take your medication, remember to always store your medication someplace safe. This is especially true if there are children who might have access to your bottles. But it is also important if you have frequent guests or if you live with someone who might mistakenly (or otherwise) help themselves to your medication. Be smart and be safe.
©Jason Poquette and The Honest Apothecary. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, quotes and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jason Poquette and The Honest Apothecary with appropriate and specific links to the original content.
Last modified: April 17, 2023