Taking pills on time can be a challenge – especially when we have so many other things to remember! Forgetting to take medication can be dangerous and many medications need to be taken on a specific schedule in order to be most effective. It’s even worse when taking pills becomes such a habit that you’re not sure if you’ve already taken them! You don’t have to have an official memory problem to occasionally confuse thinking about taking your medication with having actually taken it.

Perhaps your elderly father forgets his medication, your spouse with TBI mixes up pills if you’re not there, or you – as a busy caregiver – can’t remember to take your own pills at the same time each day. Here’s how caregivers can make sure medication is taken correctly and on schedule.

Tips for keeping track of medication

Set up reminders

a sticky note reminder and a pill blister packYou can set up phone alarms, set up reminder phone calls, or even leave a sticky note on the front door. There are some great medication reminder apps out there for smartphone users – Pillboxie and MedCoach are both popular medication management apps. Medisafe was created by family caregivers after their father accidentally overdosed.

Set up a reminder in whatever way works best for you.

Create a routine

Pair taking medications with a task that gets done anyway. Caregivers time taking or dispensing pills with brewing coffee, picking up the kids, saying nighttime prayers, or brushing teeth. Some medicines are best taken with food, while others need to be taken on an empty stomach – keep this in mind when coming up with a safe, convenient routine.

Keep pills out

a man sorting pills into a pill organizerPutting medications away might make your home less cluttered, but it makes it much easier to forget a dose. Keep pills out where they’ll be remembered – on the kitchen counter, next to the toothbrushes, near the TV remote.

Be sure that you’re storing medications correctly. Heat, humidity, and sunlight are all bad for medications. If you’d like to keep medicines in the bathroom or kitchen, consider using a daily or weekly pill organizer. That way, you can store medications in a cool, dry place until right before they’ll be taken. Some medications require refrigeration. Talk to your pharmacist if you have any concerns.

Take medications as prescribed

It’s important to talk to your doctor before stopping any medications or changing the dosage. Some medications will trigger withdrawal symptoms if they’re stopped suddenly. Patients who are taking medications that are slow to take effect are especially prone to stopping medications without telling anyone. It’s very important to take the full course of any antibiotics. Doctors need to know what’s going on in order to create an effective treatment plan, so consult them before making any changes to what medications are being taken.

Use a pill organizer

Pill organizers can be a huge help with managing multiple medications and supplements with specific doses for different days. They’re an easy way to make sure the correct dose is taken at the correct time and prevent accidental overdoses. Ask your healthcare team about creating custom blister packs or if an electronic medication dispenser can be provided to you.

Caregiver approved pill organizers

If doses are being skipped due to distractions, the Xtech 14-day pill dispenser is a great solution. You can set it to dispense pills twice a day. This pill box has a timer built into it and is small enough to fit into a pocket.

Many people recommend the MedCenter 31-day pill organizer. Caregivers can sort pills once each month and know they’ll be taken correctly. Each day has 4 compartments – for morning, noon, evening, and bedtime. Once a days dose has been taken, turn it red side up to know it’s done. They also make an easy to read clock with medication reminder alarms. When a button is pressed, the clock will read the date and time aloud. Patients with dementia are reported to find the clock reassuring – and the clock won’t get frustrated if they ask the same question over and over. MedCenter even has a handy traveling case so you can take up to 7 days worth of pills with you without worrying about losing track of them.

Other people find the revolving medication carousel easier to use, since it also provides a spot for over-the-counter medications and other drugs that aren’t taken on a schedule.

The Sammy Life VitaCaddy is popular with people who take a lot of pills once a day. You load 4 weeks of medications at one time and it dispenses them with the press of a button. This is great for making sure you take your daily tablets, however, this isn’t the best solution for gelcaps, since they can get stuck if it’s humid.

Keeping track of medications

Research suggests that the time of day you take your medication matters. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what time you should take you should take your medications and anything you can do to mitigate side effects.

Don’t forget to keep track of the medications you and your loved ones are taking. The Institute for Safe Medicine Practices has a handy form you can fill out and bring with you to the pharmacy, doctors office and the hospital. Medicine interactions can have serious consequences, so make sure that everyone on your medical team knows what you’re taking – including over the counter medications, vitamins, and herbs.

Missed a dose?

A pill fob can keep important medications on hand all the time.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist now to find out what you should do if a dose is missed or if two doses are taken too close together by accident. Many times a double dose doesn’t require any action on your part, but other times it requires a trip to the ER. Knowing how to react to medication mix-ups ahead of time could save a lot of worry one day down the road.

Worried about an accidental overdose?

If a medication is vital and you’re afraid to be caught without it, think about getting a pill fob to keep on a chain. This way, you or your patient will have the right medication any time it’s needed.

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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10 Comments

  1. I keep locked in my office, then each morning, I separate into small zip lock w the time of day designated of each for myself and/or aide to give.

    Reply
  2. I LAY THEM OUT ON A TILE ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER FOR EACH TIME NEEDED THROUGHOUT THE DAY.

    Reply
  3. With my mom, they were sorted into little plastic cups with lids. 6am, noon, 6pm, etc. There’s also PillPack, which delivers a roll of perforated packs, in time order, with list of meds and time to take them on each pouch.
    https://www.pillpack.com/

    Reply
  4. I do it in spurts. Makes me mad at myself.

    Reply
  5. When I was still managing my mom’s meds, we used the 31-day organizer mentioned in the article. I eventually bought a second one, so I could fill them at home and take them to her. It was easier to do that, than try to fill them at her place where she’d talk the whole time.

    Reply
  6. Great article. We settled on the MediSafe app after my husband’s transplant. It was especially helpful while he was trying to figure out all of his new meds because it allows you to enter the shape and colour of each tablet.

    We adopted the medication chart used by the hospital because it lists all of his meds and clearly shows what time of day the meds are taken. We’re down to 21 meds with 5 dosing times. I prepare his meds for a week in advance of the current week so I can get refills sorted in good time.

    Having the app’s audio reminder and keeping the day’s med strip out have really reduced skipped and double doses.

    Reply
  7. Superb article. I wish I had of known these things while care giving for my wife. Once I realized the potential for mistakes, (after making a few), I used a pad of paper and kept clear precise notes on what I soon realized was paramount to her well-being. I know, that is a very primitive way of doing things and I would not suggest one do that at home, but without access to guidance and helpful articles such as this one I was learning from my mistakes.

    Thanks again for such an enlightening article.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Bob!

      Reply
  8. Excellent advice and observations. Setting up a “systematized” structure is good for all us, let alone our challenged love ones. It is that orderly and CONSISTENT environment that provides safety and comfort.

    Medication and doctor appointments are integral components of the KalendarKards memory support system. From there, we surrounded them with a comprehensive set of tasks, time, and appointment cards to enable loved ones to enjoy a safe and comfortable environment to hold on to some of their independence.

    Thank you for the resources you provide to our community. Best regards.

    Reply

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