Don't miss a dose: Expert advice for managing meds

When prescription bottles start adding up, managing medication can feel like a full-time job. Take this on an empty stomach; take that twice a day with food. Take that one before bed.

Mayo Clinic pharmacist Carrie A. Krieger, Pharm.D., R.Ph., offers expert advice for organizing medication and remembering to take it on time.

As you consider these tips, be sure to think about medication safety. Some of these might not be options if you have pets, children or others who could accidentally (or purposely) get into medications.

Keep it where you need it. If your medication should be taken with food, keep it in the kitchen where you eat. If it needs to be taken first thing in the morning, keep it on your nightstand along with a glass of water.

Take advantage of pillboxes. Day-of-the-week pillboxes can be a helpful tool for organizing medication. Fill them once a week, so you're ready to take the medication when it's time. The boxes make it easy to tell if you already took a dose because the slot will be empty.

Some organizer boxes have one row for all the day's medications. Others have multiple rows for morning, noon and night. Some models even let you remove a day from the bigger box, so you can take it with you when you go out.

Bring more than you need. If you're going to be away from home, Krieger recommends packing more medication than you think you'll need. That way you're prepared if you decide to stay at your daughter's house for a couple more nights or your hospital stay gets extended.

Otherwise, says Krieger, "It can become a scramble to try to get more medications."

Bring the bottles. Krieger also recommends bringing the actual prescription bottles along for a hospital stay or when traveling. That way the prescription information is readily available.

Avoid travel hassles. States and countries have different rules about prescription medications. So if you're traveling, try to keep medications in their original bottles. You can fill your pillbox when you get to your destination.

"Keep them in your carry-on, not your checked baggage," Krieger suggests. You don't want your meds missing the connection.

Schedule a medication management appointment. Ask your primary health care provider, pharmacist or health insurance company about medication management appointments.

During these meetings, a pharmacist will assess your prescription and nonprescription medications and supplements. The goal? To look for possible interactions and make sure the medications and vitamins are all necessary.

More tips from Mayo Clinic Connect members

Mayo Clinic Connect is an online community where people discuss health conditions and offer support to others. Here, members of the Mayo Clinic Connect Aging Well group share how they manage their own medication load:

Set a reminder. Some Mayo Clinic Connect members say they like to set alarms, alerting them that it's time to take their medications. You can set reminders on your phone, a smart device like Echo or an alarm clock.

Get an app. "I have a phone app called Medisafe, which is invaluable," writes Sharon, a Mayo Clinic Connect member. "It holds all the information, reminds, allows checkoffs when meds are taken and keeps track of refills."

Some apps will even notify a caregiver or loved one if a dose is missed.

Set it on automatic. Automatic dispensers take away the chore of filling pillboxes. At a preset time, a light will go on or an alarm will sound. This alerts the recipient that it's time to take medications.

Some dispensers even have a lock that keeps medications from being distributed too early or without a code. But these dispensers can be a pricy option since they have a monthly subscription fee.

Mayo Clinic Connect member Jake found the automatic dispenser with an "irritating alarm" helpful. "I haven't forgotten any pills since," he writes.

For more advice from the Aging Well group, search for Mayo Clinic Connect online. You don't have to be a Mayo Clinic patient to participate.

Your pharmacist is there to help

If you need help managing your meds, ask your pharmacist. You might be surprised what services are available. Some pharmacies:

  • Offer packaging services that put your pills in packets for a.m. or p.m. That way you don't have to fill your pillbox. You just take what's in the packet.
  • Organize your refills, so they're all due for pickup the same day of the month.
  • Deliver right to your door.

Pharmacists can also help you make a schedule and offer tips that might make taking medication a little easier.

  1. Krieger CA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Feb. 10, 2022.
  2. Multiple conditions: How do you keep track of all your medications? Mayo Clinic. Accessed Feb. 10, 2022.