An apple a day to keep the doctor away sounds easy enough. But it can be confusing to stay on track with your prescription drugs from start to finish, especially if you are taking multiple medications and supplements.
Try these tips and tools to organize your pill schedule, prevent missed doses, and make sure you never run out of refills.
They’re inexpensive and handy. Basic organizers have separate compartments for each day of the week. Bigger ones have multiple slots if you take pills more than once a day. The trick is to remember to refill it when it’s empty. If you need extra help, ask a friend or a relative to fill your pillbox when they visit.
If your medication schedule is complicated, an automatic pill dispenser may be the way to go. You can rent one by the month. Or you can buy it for a few hundred dollars, or spend up to a thousand bucks, sometimes with a monthly subscription fee. It can hold more than a dozen pills of all shapes in each cup and alert you when it’s time to take them.
The fanciest dispensers can connect wirelessly to your pharmacist to let them know if you skip a dose. Medicare for seniors doesn’t cover these gadgets. But some state Medicaid programs for people with low incomes or disabilities may pay for them. Check with your insurance.
You can also get cheaper automatic dispensers for under $100. These often look similar to regular plastic pillboxes. Some rotate mechanically on a timer, and many lock to keep you from accidentally taking the wrong dose. You can program these to alarm when you’re due for another dose.
Take Single-Dose Packets
Ask your doctor or pharmacy if they can give you predated single doses or blister packs. Some pharmacies will organize your meds into separate, custom-filled packets, which are marked with the date, day of the week, dosage, and even the time of day when you should take the drugs. Just make sure to let your pharmacy know right away if your prescriptions change.
Predated packets work best when you know your routine will stay the same. If your dosage changes often, or you’re just starting a new drug and you know your doctor will probably adjust them, this might not be the best option for you.
Some pharmacies also can personalize and simplify your prescription schedule. You get easy-to-follow instructions (in some places in Spanish) with the best times of the day to take your meds and in ways that lower the number of daily doses. Ask your pharmacy if it offers a similar program.
Turn to Technology
These can be your handy helpers!
Set alarms on your phone to help you remember to take your medication or refill your dispensers each week or month. These can be tweaked to fit any regimen, whether you’re taking your meds at the same time each day, three times a day, or just once a week.
A wristwatch may also be a good option if you have trouble hearing alarms from a separate room.
Several websites offer online medication trackers, and some will send you text or email reminders.
Electronic devices, some of which attach to proscription bottles, can play a recording that tells you when and how to take your medication. Some can be paired to a mobile app that lets you scan a barcode on the bottle, which opens a website with more information or plays the recording through your phone.
Mobile apps let you keep a checklist of medications on your phone. Some use Wi-Fi to keep a record of your doses in the Cloud. Some can even be paired to a “smart” pill bottle, which has a sensor that tracks when you’ve opened it. Ask your pharmacist if they have these. Your app would then automatically tell a doctor, caregiver, or family member when you’ve taken your meds. These could be programmed to alert you or your contact person when you’ve missed a dose.
Adopt Helpful Habits
- Put your medications where you look every day, like next to the coffee pot or on your bedside table.
- Follow a routine. Take your pills at the same time every day, like when you eat breakfast or after you brush your teeth at night.
- Keep a list of your medications, either on paper or using a mobile app or the internet.
- Stick a calendar on the wall or the fridge and make a check mark every time you take your meds.
- Wrap rubber bands around your pill bottles to keep track of the number of doses you’ve taken.
- Turn your medication bottle upside down when it’s time to refill.