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8 Creative Ways to Remember to Take Your Medicines

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on July 1, 2022.

Do you feel like you already have enough to juggle each day?

And now you have to remember to take one, two or maybe more medications each day?

It’s a fact - keeping up with your prescription, over-the-counter, and vitamin treatments can be a daunting task. But never fear – there are tried and true methods to help you to remember to take your daily meds on time without fail.

Is it OK to miss a dose?

Adherence to your medications (that is, taking them exactly as prescribed by your doctor) is very important. Here's why.

When you take your medication on a regular basis, your body reaches what is known as “steady state” – the amount of drug going into your body (absorption) is the same as the amount of drug going out (metabolism and excretion).

All medications have a “half-life” - that is, the time it takes for your body to eliminate half (50%) of the drug levels in your body. It usually takes about 5 half-lives for a drug to reach its steady state or to be almost completely eliminated from your body.

Many of us think it’s no problem when we miss a dose or two of medication, but this isn't always true. Some drugs have longer half-lives, and some drugs have shorter half-lives. For example, if your medication has a half-life of 12 hours, like the common blood pressure drug lisinopril (Zestril), your steady state blood levels of medication could dangerously decline if you just missed a day or two of medicine. Your blood pressure can rise and this could have ill effects on your heart health. This is one reason why it is so important to take your medications regularly as prescribed by your doctor.

Side effects come into play, too. Often, drug side effects may occur temporarily when a drug is reaching the steady state, that is, as drug levels are rising in the body. If you miss a few doses, and then have to get back to your steady state when you resume your medication, you risk a greater chance that you may experience those temporary side effects again. This is another good reason not to miss your dose.

Here are some tips to help you remember how to take your medicine.

1. Practice makes perfect. Learn about your medicines

Learning more about what your medications are used for will reinforce your ability to take your medicines correctly and on time. Learning about your medical conditions can be a strong motivator, too. This is especially important for conditions that have few, if any, symptoms to remind you it’s time to take your medicine – like high blood pressure.

Learning about side effects are important so you can recognize them if they occur. Many side effects with drug treatment are temporary, so be sure to ask your doctor about short-lived and more long-term side effects with any medication.

2. Pill boxes

Pill boxes are an organization tool for your pills that can easily be found at most pharmacies. Pill boxes have been around for a long time, and are especially useful if you easily forget if you have taken your meds each day. This tool while it seems old school, are very useful for people who take multiple medications each day and at different times.

Older patients may especially find pill boxes convenient to use. The boxes are split into individual sections that make-up a week’s worth of medicine, or more, and may even be separated by times of day. They can easily fit into travel bags or purses; however, don’t leave them in a hot or freezing cold car.

Just be sure you don't have meds that look the same that can cause confusion, or that it is confusing for any relatives or older loved ones.

3. Electronic applications and pill reminders

Apps to help patients remember and track their medication use are convenient tools for anyone who carries a mobile phone. See commonly used apps here.

  • For example, a pill reminder app can keep a complete list of all your medications. You could choose to get pill reminders to take your meds at a special time, and receive prescription refill reminders right on your mobile device.
  • You can also add personal notes and get easy access to important information about your medicine online.
  • If you like visual clues, you might get a photo of your medications for easy reference on the app. Found a wayward pill in your pocket? Use the pill identifier app to verify it with colors, markings and shapes.
  • It is an easy way to have a complete list of all your meds when you visit the doctor, dentist or other healthcare provider. This can help greatly with drug interaction checks, too. You may be able to share your list with your doctor electronically, as well.

4. Calendar alerts

Maybe you prefer not to use a mobile device or just prefer the simple method of a calendar. Those are great tools, too. Mark your daily doses on a paper calendar at home, on your computer, or even in your little black book. Just be sure to update it frequently and mark through each dose as you take it, in case you forget from dose to dose.

Getting into a regular routine to help you remember to take your meds is really what’s most important. Find what works best for you. Try to take your meds at the same time each day.

5. Link your medication doses with a daily activity

  • You can tie your drug doses with a daily routine like breakfast time, after a shower, or when you get ready for bed.
  • Keep your medications in easy-to-see (but secure) spot as a visual clue. Be sure you keep your medications in a safe area, high away from curious toddlers and pets.
  • Pretty soon taking your meds will be as routine as, well, brushing your teeth (and that might be a good time to take your meds, too).

Protect your meds from extreme heat or cold, and don’t leave them in a steamy bathroom (where medicine cabinets are usually found, coincidentally). Most medications are stable at room temperature, but under extreme conditions, they can lose their potency, crumble, or even melt.

If your medicine needs to be stored in the refrigerator, consider posting a sticky note reminder on the fridge as a reminder to grab it when it’s time.

If you have especially dangerous medications such as opioid painkillers, be sure to keep them safe and secure, even locked up if need, to prevent theft or accidental ingestion by a child, teen or pet. When they are no longer needed, dispose of opioids, and other medicines in a Drug Take-Back Day Event, or your pharmacy may have a dedicated kiosk for this purpose.

6. Get help from family members or friends

Many friends and family take meds, and creating a team to help remind each other to take their doses can be helpful. If you live alone, maybe a friend would text you each morning or night, when they also take their meds. If a family member you live with also takes meds, you have a built in pill reminder right there at your house. Take advantage of it.

Seniors often need help to remember their medications. If you have a loved one that takes several meds, consider helping them create a pill box, printing out pictures of their pills from the Pill ID tool, and then writing in large print what each medicine is used for, and its name and dose. Place the pictures in a conspicuous, but safe, place so that they can refer to the printouts when needed.

You can access regularly updated Consumer Level Drug Information here, too.

Large print on prescription bottles and for drug information printouts can be very helpful as older patients lose their eyesight. Your pharmacist can usually print out dosing and drug information in large type – so be sure to ask.

7. Keep an up-to-date list of your medication names, strengths, doses, and number of remaining refills

  • Having an easily accessible list of your medication specifics will enable you to provide this information correctly and quickly at a time when you might need it the most – in an emergency situation.
  • Just be sure to update this information when medications are started or stopped.
  • Remember – over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal or dietary supplements count, too – so have them on your list.
  • If you utilize electronic tools, you can easily update this information as needed on the free Medication Guide App.

8. Ask your doctor and pharmacist to help simplify your medication regimen

If all else fails, there may be ways to simplify your medication regimen to make life easier. If you take a drug two or three times per day, your doctor may be able to find a similar drug that only needs to be taken once a day.

If you need to separate doses because you have to be careful about combining antacids or other supplements with prescription drugs due to drug interactions, your doctor may be able to find medications that do not cause an interaction.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist which medications you can safely take together at the same time to limit multiple daily doses.

Be sure to check to see if you can take your meds at breakfast, dinner, or bedtime - the most common (and often easy) times to take medications. Set up your routine around these times, if possible.

See also

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.