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Low Tech Ways to Remember to Take Meds

It’s a perpetual challenge: patients who try to be compliant but who simply keep forgetting to take their medication.

Many healthcare professionals themselves can relate, especially those who work different shifts each week, which makes it harder to maintain regular routines and remember to take daily medications of their own. Undoubtedly you already have a couple of suggestions you already use to help patients who need help remembering to take their medication, but it never hurts to add some tools to your toolbox. After all, some methods may work better for short-term prescriptions, such as a course of antibiotics, while others may be better for drugs that treat chronic conditions. Similarly, some strategies may work best for people who only need to take a medication once a day, while others are necessary to help those who take multiple medications at different times each day. Sometimes cobbling together various strategies is the best route to success. 

Today’s article will focus on the low-tech ways to help patients—as well as you, your family members, or other loved ones—remember to pop your prescribed pills when needed. A future article will focus on high-tech options, such as smartwatches and specialized apps. 

1. Accept That We’re All Human 

This isn’t so much a strategy as it is a mental attitude that may help reduce the anxiety that can increase forgetfulness. Sometimes when you’re afraid you’ll mess something up, you self-sabotage, and your fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s okay to let patients know that forgetfulness with medication is a common problem. An estimated 3 out of 4 Americans struggle to remember to take their medications.

Simply avoiding the term “compliance,” which implies making a choice, may help since few people choose to forget to do things that improve our health. Suppose people can accept that they are human. In that case, they are fallible, and forgetfulness is a common challenge that stress and our busy lives today can make worse; it may reduce some of the frustration, anxiety, and self-berating that can increase forgetfulness. 

2. Learn About Each Medication and Why It’s Important

This is another suggestion that’s less of a reminder strategy and more of a generally important habit for protecting your health. If someone knows what each medication is, what it does, why it’s important, and—most of all—what it feels like when they don’t take it, it can help motivate them to find an effective reminder strategy. For example, with some medications, being aware of their effects can help someone remember that they’ve accidentally skipped it when they start to notice symptoms the medication keeps at bay. Another example is someone who keeps forgetting their levothyroxine may learn to recognize that feeling extra tired might mean they’ve forgotten to take it that day.

3. Use a Pill Organizer 

It’s an oldie but a goodie because it can work—if you have the right pillbox. Plenty of people try to use a pillbox but find it doesn’t work for them. More likely, they haven’t found one that works for their particular needs. If they have multiple pills to take throughout the day, for example, getting one with separate morning, afternoon, and evening slots can help. 

But choosing the right pillbox goes beyond that: What if someone is great at remembering to take their pills when their pillbox is complete, but they can’t remember to refill it each week when it’s emptied? One solution is to get a monthly organizer (they make them for two a day too). It takes more time to refill it each month, but they do it far less often, and the time it takes may cause them to set aside the time to do it intentionally.

Another option is the travel pill organizer that zips up easily, looks like a wallet, and fits in your pocket like one. If someone constantly forgets their meds but has one of these always in their pocket, purse, or car (or one in each place), then at least they have them right there with them when they do remember to take them instead of forgetting by the time they’re back home again.

4. Link the Meds to a Daily Routine or Activity 

This strategy works best for people who particularly like routines and do well at keeping them. For example, if you pair your doses with breakfast, a shower, bedtime, brushing your teeth, a workout, or similar daily activity, it’s harder to forget them once your brain learns that pattern. Keeping the pills in an obvious place (though away from the reach of children and pets) can help too.

5. Sticky Notes 

People who dislike clutter may not like this. Still, those with ADHD or who thrive in messiness may find this to be the perfect solution: put a sticky note on the bathroom mirror, on the microwave, on the front door, above your car keys… wherever you can’t miss it, and where it’s not far from reach of the pills themselves. (The last thing you want to do is see the sticky note on your bedroom mirror, walk into the kitchen to get your meds, and forget why you went into the kitchen.) This is a beneficial strategy for those whose medications require a refrigerator: put the sticky note on the fridge or even on the fridge handle if necessary.

6. Ask Family and Friends for Help 

This one is self-explanatory, but it’s also one that many patients are reluctant to do. But, again, we’re all human, and forgetfulness is common. There’s no shame in asking for someone’s help. 

7. Carry Extra Doses

As mentioned above with the travel pill organizer, having extra doses on hand means you can take them when you remember them, even if it’s later than planned. This strategy depends on the medication not being subjected to extreme heat or cold, such as being left in a car in very high or low temperatures. It also relies on the drugs not requiring refrigeration or any preparation, and you have to take care that the medication is not accessible to children, pets, or others who should not access it. With those criteria in mind, this strategy gives people a backup method when forgetful. 

8. Record Your Doses in a Planner or Calendar 

For those who live by their daily planner, making notations when you take your meds means you’ll see when you haven’t taken it when you check it throughout the day. This method also helps you know when you’ve already taken it so that you don’t take extra doses by mistake. 

9. Flip Over the Pill Bottle 

This strategy is less about remembering to take something than it is about avoiding taking an extra dose. For example, if you flip over the bottle each time you take your meds, you’ll avoid taking a double dose. However, this method requires you to remember to flip it right side up before the next day. Warning: This method may not work for cat owners who leave pill bottles on the counter. 

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