About this series: Our Duos have learned countless tips and tricks of the trade in our work supporting older adults and their caregivers. In these posts, we share our easy-to-follow guides for dealing with some of the most common aging navigation issues we encounter every day.
Did you know that only around 50% of people in the United States take their medications as prescribed?1 Did you also know that this number gets worse as a person gets older and starts being prescribed more medications? 2 We’ve helped a lot of people build better habits around their medications; here are some pointers to help you stay on track with your doctor’s orders.
At the Doctor’s Office or Pharmacy
Preparation is the key to success. Take a few minutes before your next visit to the doctor’s office or pharmacy to write down any questions you have about your medications or supplements.
Questions you might ask your doctor:
- Why are you prescribing this medication? How will it help my health?
- What would happen if I did not take my medication everyday?
- Step by step, how do I take this medication? Can you write out or print out those instructions for me?
- What side effects can I expect from this medication?
- Are there any negative side effects that I should call your office immediately about?
Questions you might ask your pharmacist:
- What packaging options are available through this pharmacy? Do you provide blister packs, daily pill packs, or other options that might make it easier for me to stay on schedule?
- Do any of my medications have negative interactions with one another?
- Should any of my medications be taken at specific times of day, or with specific instructions (with water, on an empty stomach, etc.)?
Have a list of your current medications, pharmacy info, emergency contacts, other healthcare providers, and medical conditions. This is especially important if you have more than one doctor prescribing medications.
You might also consider bringing your prescriptions (bottles, blister packs, etc) to your appointment so you can review any short-hand instructions on the labels. Ask your doctor, their staff, or your pharmacist to help you write out what the abbreviations mean or provide you with a printed copy. And when your doctor, pharmacist, or other staff members give you instructions on how to take your medication, repeat their instructions back to them to make sure you understand exactly what to do.
Many prescription medications will require specific storage - like refrigeration or keeping away from sunlight - once you have them at home. Always follow the instructions on the medication’s packaging.
Staying on track with medication schedules can feel overwhelming, especially if you are managing several medications at once. Here are a few of our favorite approaches.
The Technology Fix: Set an alarm for the time you are supposed to take your medication - and don’t turn it off until you have taken them! Many phone systems let you label each alarm with a custom message, like the name of your medication, which can help you keep track of multiple schedules.
The Classic Approach: There’s a reason pill boxes with individual compartments have stuck around all these years: you can see at a glance if you’ve taken your medication as planned. There are pill boxes for a month, for a week, even pill boxes organized by the hour! Ask your pharmacist where they keep their pill boxes at the store if you don’t already have one.
Location, Location, Location: Do you have medication that you need to take with food? Keep these medications stored close to where you commonly eat. How about medication you have to take first thing in the morning? Keep those on your nightstand with a bottle of water so it’s the first thing you do every day.
The Sticky Note Method: This method is helpful for tactile or visual people. Write “Not taken” on one sticky note and “Taken” on another, and place these where you store your medications. When you take your medication each day, move the medication bottle or pack from the “Not taken” sticky note to the “Taken” sticky note. Be sure that you move your medicine back to the “Not taken” sticky note in the evening. And if you have medicine that you take multiple times throughout the day, it may be helpful to use multiple sticky notes (“AM not taken”, “AM taken”, etc).
Bottle Flip: Quick and easy: flip your pill bottle over after you have taken your medication. Don’t forget to flip it back that evening so you are ready to start fresh in the morning!
Give these tips a try and see which method works best for you.
1 Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, “A Study of Medication Compliance in Geriatric Patients with Chronic Illnesses at a Tertiary Care Hospital,” December 2016.
2 Medicine, “Impact of number of medications and age on adherence to antihypertensive medications,” December 2019.