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6 smart tips for keeping track of your meds

Expert advice to help you stay healthy

Person using weekday pill tracker to sort medication. Credit: Getty Images / FilippoBacci

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It’s no secret that as we age, our risk of developing chronic diseases increases exponentially. In 2018, the CDC and the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) reported that as much as 27.2% of U.S. adults have multiple chronic conditions. And when it comes to chronic conditions, medications to keep them under control are par for the course. In fact, as many as 36% of seniors take five or more medications per day. That’s a lot to remember.

And, of course, time has a way of playing tricks on our memories as we age. What happens when you miss a pill one day? Or if you’re not sure whether you’ve already had your daily dose? Whether you’re taking one pill or six, the chances for a mix-up or forgetting to take your pills looms large. So while medications may be the best way to keep the symptoms of chronic conditions in check, safe medication management is crucial to your overall health and well-being.

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Why is medication management so important?

Person sitting at table surveying medication bottles.
Credit: Getty Images / DNY59

When you take a lot of meds, it's essential to take them as prescribed—but that's easier said than done.

Proper medication management boils down to a safety issue. “Understanding how to take your medication and the purpose of your medication is critical to your health and well-being,” says Tina M. Baxter, a board-certified gerontological nurse practitioner based in Indiana.

Not only are missed doses bad for obvious reasons, but Baxter notes that there’s an inherent danger to taking a pill because you’re not sure if you already did. “Doubling up on medicine can be just as dangerous as missing your dose altogether,” she says. “For example, an accidental double dose of medication for pain or anxiety can lead to marked drowsiness, and in some cases, it can result in an accidental overdose.”

You also need to be your own advocate, particularly if you visit different doctors for different reasons. “If your primary care provider starts you on a medication for your blood pressure at a visit in their office and your heart doctor starts you on another medication for your blood pressure, you’re now getting more of the same medication you’re already taking,” she says.

If you’re not communicating effectively with your medical providers, overprescription isn’t the only risk. “Sometimes medications given together may counteract each other and prevent each one from working properly,” says Baxter.

So how do you get yourself on track? Here’s what Baxter recommends.

Step 1: Gather all prescription medicines into one place

Assorted medications in medicine cabinet.
Credit: Getty Images / smartstock

Keep your meds in a centralized location in your home that will be easily accessible and quick to remember.

It’s not uncommon to stash meds throughout the house based on the time of day you tend to take them. Kitchen drawers and cabinets, nightstands, and bathroom vanities are often popular spots, but managing your meds this way could lead to trouble.

The truth is, this is one of the quickest ways to lose track of your meds. A better way to manage your meds effectively is to bring all of them into one location. Not only will it help you remember to take them, but it can also help you get a better idea of what you’re taking, when you’re running low, and you’ll certainly be able to keep an eye on expiration dates.

In addition, be sure to mind where you’re storing them, as improper storage can affect their potency and longevity. Typically, bathroom cabinets are not ideal for medicine storage, as they are known for dampness and heat fluctuations. Most medicines should be stored in a cool, dry place—and, of course, away from pets and kids.

Step 2: Presort your doses

On left, person sitting at table organizing pillbox. On right, a smart pillbox.
Credit: Ezydose / EllieGrid

Dole out your meds in daily increments, whether in an old-school pillbox or a smart organizer.

Staying organized is key when it comes to good medication management. And one of the easiest ways to do that is by presorting them on a weekly basis using a pillbox or organizer. Remember that these items are intended to streamline the process, so a good pillbox should be large enough to accommodate all of your doses like this one from Bug Hull, or facilitate morning and night doses, this one from Ezy Dose. If you have a lot of meds and want a holistic solution, the Monthly Pill Organizer by Ellie integrates smart reminders via an app, learns your schedule using AI, and contains 30 days worth of meds.

One final note about presorting your pills and using gadgets: These items come in all shapes, sizes, and prices, and they often range from no-tech to high-tech. Ultimately, it’s most important to choose one that meets your needs and matches your aptitude.

Step 3: Find reminders that work for you

Smartphone with pill reminder on screen.
Credit: Getty Images / Tarik Kizilkaya

Reminders, whether electronic or visual, will help prompt you to take doses at the right time every day.

External reminders can go a long way toward keeping you on track. You can add alarms into your smartphone or smartwatch or download a dedicated app, like the well-reviewed Medisafe medication reminder app. The good thing about using a smart device is there’s likely no limit to the number of alarms you can set, so whether you’re taking three pills or eight, you should have no issue using it for pill reminders.

That said, if "smart" reminders don’t work for you, there are myriad ways to use visual reminders for medication management, including:

  • Keeping pill bottles visible in a spot you visit routinely at the same time every day, like near your coffee maker
  • Turning pill bottles upside down once you’ve taken the dose—just don’t forget to turn them right side up at the end of the day
  • Putting sticky notes on the bathroom mirror for morning pill doses and on the fridge or elsewhere in the kitchen for midday or evening doses to be taken around lunch or dinner
  • Setting up an old alarm clock near where you keep your meds to go off at the dose time you have the most trouble remembering

Step 4: Set up a tracking system

On left, person writing in notebook with pen. On right pill tracker gadget on bottle.
Credit: Getty Images / Biserka Stojanovic / Take-n-Slide

Log your meds manually or by using a clever gadget like the Take And Slide Pill Tracker.

Like anything you do daily, developing a system for recording your meds will be infinitely helpful, particularly if you prefer to or must keep medications in their original packaging (which is a good idea all around if you’re concerned about keeping an eye on expiration dates). The simplest way is to grab a pencil and paper pad and just write daily entries as you go, or use a printed calendar and place a checkmark in each daily box when you take your pills. It’s not a bad idea to also record how you feel each day and at what time you experience any symptoms, particularly if you’re beginning a new medication that could have side effects.

If you’re managing two or more pills a day or need to take your meds at varying times throughout the day, preprinted medication logbooks can be a good way to go, or you can buy handy trackers that affix directly to your medication bottles like the Take And Slide Pill Tracker. This clever tracker adheres to your pill bottles—when you take your daily dose, simply flip the toggle, and you’re set.

Step 5: Create a routine

Woman sitting down and checking watch with laptop on lap.
Credit: Getty Images / Moyo Studio

Using specific moments in your daily routine is a great way to remember to take your midday doses.

If you have medications you must take throughout the day, creating a routine around your meds is another great way to prevent missed doses.

For example, think about taking your morning meds before you walk the dog or feed the cat. Similarly, you can try scheduling your midday doses around your lunch, or perhaps with your 2 PM coffee or tea. At the end of your day, your evening doses can be taken with your dessert or when brushing your teeth before bed.

Of course, everyone’s life is different, and if there are no pets or regular nightly desserts, find something that works for you but is consistent enough to serve as a good prompt to take a dose.

Step 6: Schedule brown-bag checkups

Person sitting down talking to their healthcare provider.
Credit: Getty Images / PeopleImages

Once a year, talk to your doctor about whether your meds should be adjusted.

Baxter also suggests scheduling a medication review with your doctor or pharmacist at least once per year. Also known as a brown-bag checkup, this procedure is just as it sounds: You round up all of your medications, toss them in a bag, and bring them to a provider whom you trust to review everything you’re on. From there, a doctor or nurse practitioner can re-prescribe, discontinue, or evaluate doses, while a pharmacist can suggest which ones to bring to your doctor’s attention for possible drug interactions.

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