Red, round, blue, oblong, white, rectangular — pills come in all shapes, colors and sizes making it difficult to keep them straight. Even more difficult is keeping track of when you’re supposed to take them. The blue one in the morning or afternoon, but not with the white one etc. — all the rules and times can get confusing really fast. People ages 65 and up are prescribed more than 30% of all medications, some taking 2-7 prescription drugs daily. Developing a system and schedule for keeping track of your prescription drugs will make it easier to avoid dangerous interactions or overdoses and will help you and your caregivers remember when to take what.
Create a Medication Record
Gather up all the prescription medication you’re taking including any over-the-counter or sample drugs and vitamins. Write down the following information:
- The name of every medication
- What it looks like — shape, color, size and markings (or take a photo and write information on the back)
- The amount in a prescribed dose
- When and how you take the medication every day (time of day, with/without a meal)
- The day you started and the day you will stop taking it (for temporary treatments)
- Why you’re taking the medication
- Who prescribed the medication
- Who showed you how to use the medication
- The cost of each medication
Color coding can be an easy way to mark the time of day you take each medication — one color for a. m. and one for p.m., or three colors if you take medications three times a day.
Bring this record with you every time you visit your doctor or see your pharmacist. This will give them the opportunity to review the list and ensure there are no harmful drug interactions. Encourage them to make a copy of your record for their files to keep them from prescribing a drug that could interact with a medication you’re already taking. Give a copy of this record to a friend/caregiver in case it is needed in an emergency. Don’t forget to update this record anytime there is a change in medications, dosage, or timing.
Tricks that Stick
Use your record as a guide to help you remember when you’re supposed to take each medication. Then work towards getting into a consistent routine.
Use a pill organizer with separate compartments for each day of the week and various times of day. Take it with you when traveling or when eating out. If the pill organizer is too large to take with you when eating out, just take that dose with you to ensure you don’t forget. Set up a time each week to refill the pill organizer (using your record as a guide). For example: I refill my pill organizer every Sunday night while watching one of my favorite T.V. shows to get them ready for the upcoming busy week. I have a small container that lives by my pill organizer. In the event I eat out for dinner, I empty the dinner medication dose for that day in my small container. I put it in my pocket so while I’m at dinner I don’t forget to take my meds.
Ask your pharmacist if he/she can pre-fill blister packs with your medications, so you can break open only what you need each day.
Set a clock or watch alarm to go off when it’s time to take your medications.
Pick a specific time to take your medications or couple it with a daily activity — before a certain meal, when your favorite T.V. show comes on, after brushing your teeth, when the mail arrives, as you work on your crossword puzzle, or just before bedtime.
Put up a calendar on a wall you walk past often or on the fridge to help remind you of your medication times. It can also be a great help in keeping track of everyone’s birthday and anniversaries!
There are multiple devices to help like medication reminder pagers, wristwatches or automatic pill dispensers. Talk to your pharmacist about what might work best for you.
Consider a medical alert company that will place reminder calls when it’s time to take the next dose.
It takes 21 days of doing something consistently for it to become a habit. Establish your system today and in no time taking the right medications at the right time will be a habit!
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