How to Organize Your Medications

Do you take a couple of medications a day? Lots of Americans do. You need to be careful, though, to take the right drug at the right time.

Here are some simple tips to keep your pills straight and your health on track.

No. 1. Use a Pill Organizer

They're simple, cheap, and do the job. Look for pillboxes at your local pharmacy.

They come with separate sections for days of the week and times of the day. This allows you to sort drugs according to exactly when you need to take them.  

Most medications can be stored in compartments with other drugs for short periods of time without interacting. But check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure.

Other variations on the theme: Try automatic pill dispensers that help you organize your pills. Or put medications in different colored bottles for separate times of day.

You can also ask your pharmacy for pills that come in "multi-dose" packages. They group meds that need to be taken together into packets marked with the date and time. Make sure you don't order too many in advance, though, in case there's a change in your prescriptions.

Whichever way you go, make sure organizers are filled correctly. It's easy to drop two pills where there should only be one, or put the wrong medicine into a bottle. 

No. 2. Set a Schedule

It's easier to remember your pills if you take them at the same time and in the same place, preferably at home. It's even better if you can hitch your pill schedule to your regular routine. For instance, take them with breakfast or when you brush your teeth at night.   

Have a plan for filling your pill organizer, too. Do it on the same day each week or each month.

No. 3. Keep Your Pills in One Place

It will help keep you from forgetting to take your meds. Choose an obvious, visible location, like your nightstand or dresser, or next to the coffee maker.

Does someone else in your household take medications, too? Consider keeping theirs in the same place, too. But be sure you can easily identify which pills belong to whom. Try different color pillboxes, for example, and be sure everything is clearly labeled.

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No. 4. Set an Alarm

You can do this on your phone, computer, or watch to remind yourself to take your pills.    

Program your phone or computer to send you an email or text message when it's time for your meds.  There are apps that can help, too. Research shows that technology can really help you stick to a schedule.

No. 5. Make a Checklist

A written chart that shows which medications to take and when to take them is another good way to stay organized. You can find them online or make your own. 

Include the name of the medicine, the dose, when you take it, and what the pill looks like.  Also mark any special instructions, such as whether it should be taken with food. 

Leave space to check off that you've taken each dose. Update your drug list as soon as you change prescriptions.

No. 6. Talk to Your Doctor and Pharmacist

If taking a medication several times a day is confusing, ask your doctor if he can prescribe an alternative that can be taken less frequently.

Remember that your pharmacist is an important part of your health care team. Your drugstore's computer system stores a list of your medications. He or she may be able to help you draw up a checklist.

If you're on a Medicare drug plan, you may be eligible for medication counseling through a free program called Medication Therapy Management. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on July 11, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Administration on Aging: "Prescription Drug Options for Older Adults: Managing Your Medicines," "Medicines and You: A Guide for Older Adults."

Visiting Nurse Service of New York: "5 Tips for Managing Medications."

American Lung Association: "Managing Your COPD Medications."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Puzzled by Pills? Tips for Medication Management."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Medication Management Tips."

The University of Iowa College of Public Health: "Managing Your Medications."

Charles Krobot, PharmD, assistant professor, College of Pharmacy, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha.

Hedgecock, S. Forbes, May 4, 2015.

University of Michigan: "Tips for Managing Your Medications."

Dayer, L.  Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, March-April, 2013.

NIH Senior Health: "Taking Charge of Your Medicines."

National Council on Patient Information and Education Must for Seniors: "6 Ways to Help Your Older Parents Use Medications the Right Way and Prevent Problems."

FDA: "My Medicine Record," "Are You Taking Medication as Prescribed?"

Health in Aging: "Avoiding Overmedication and Harmful Drug Reactions."

Medicare.gov: "Medication Therapy Management programs for complex health needs."

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