7 simple ways to remember to take your medications

Managing multiple prescriptions starts with understanding your meds and using simple strategies to stay on schedule.

male hand holding pills

If you’re like most people 65 and over, you take a prescription medication or two. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tells us that, in a given month, 68% of older adults have three or more prescription drugs to manage. And 41% have five or more medications. 

That’s a lot of pills to remember. It can be easy to miss a dose or accidentally double up on one — and that can be bad news for your health. 

Missed or incorrect doses of medication can lead to worsening of symptoms, trips to the emergency room and poorer health over time. Skipping blood pressure medication, for example, can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, cautions the American Heart Association.

Not taking diabetes medications as directed can lead to high blood sugar, putting you at risk of a diabetic coma, notes the American Diabetes Association. Or it can lead to low blood sugar, increasing your risk of falls. 

If managing medications is leaving you frazzled, don’t worry. Start by working with your doctors to understand your medications and the right way to take them. Then follow through with simple strategies to stay on schedule. 

Strategy #1: Update Your Medication List 

It’s hard to keep track of your meds if you aren’t sure what you should be taking. Now’s a great time to make a medication list with your doctor’s help — or review your list together to make sure it’s current. 

The National Institute on Aging recommends telling your doctor:

  • All the medications you take, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements. This can help your doctor watch out for any potential drug interactions.
  • Any concerns you have about taking your medication, such as costs or side effects. Your doctor may be able to suggest alternatives. 

Next, go over your list of medications. For each medication, ask:  

  • What’s the name of the drug, and what’s it for? 
  • How much do I take, and how often? If you need to use a device, such as an inhaler, ask for a demonstration. 
  • Are there any side effects I should know about?  

Share this list with all your doctors. Keep a copy in your wallet or purse so you always have it handy for trips to the doctor or pharmacy.  

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Strategy #2: Ask About Easy Ways to Fill Prescriptions

If getting to the pharmacy is difficult for you, check with your doctor, pharmacy or health plan for more convenient options. For example, you may be able to order a 90-day supply of medications through home delivery by mail. 

Many pharmacies also allow you to enroll in refill reminders by phone, text or email. Some pharmacies may also help you coordinate your refills so you can pick up multiple medications on the same day. Others may offer presorted packs of each day’s medication.

Strategy #3: Use a Pill Organizer

An old-fashioned pillbox with separate tabs for each day of the week is still one of the simplest and most effective ways to organize your medications. There are plenty of variations, so shop around to find one that works best for you. 

If you’d like, upgrade to an electronic pillbox that will blink, beep or alert you with medication reminders. 

Strategy #4: Store Your Medication in a Sensible Place

Regardless of how you store your medications, keep them in a safe but easily accessible spot. The National Institutes of Health recommends keeping them in a cool, dry place, like a kitchen shelf away from the stove or sink. 

One thing to keep in mind: If any young children live with you or visit you frequently, be sure to keep both prescription and over-the-counter medications out of their reach. 

Strategy #5: Establish a Routine 

Taking your medications at the same time and place each day makes it much easier to remember them. Set an alarm on your phone, or sync your medication schedule with your daily habits, such as eating breakfast or brushing your teeth. 

Strategy #6: Use a Calendar 

A large, easy-to-read calendar can help you track your medications each day. Post it in a highly visible area of your home, such as your kitchen fridge or wall. Mark the calendar when you’ve taken your medicine.

Strategy #7: Download an App

If you’re attached to your smartphone, why not put it to good use to help you stay on top of your medications? 

There are several smartphone apps that offer medication reminders and drug interaction information. Some will help you set a medication schedule. Others prompt you to track healthy habits, such as drinking more water or checking your blood pressure.