9 Easy Ways to Remember to Take Your Meds

Americans filled almost 4.5 billion prescriptions in 2016. That's a lot of meds to keep track of.

Reminder ribbon tied around person's pointer finger

Medically reviewed in November 2022

Nearly half of Americans took one prescription drug in the past month—and about 12 percent (40 percent over the age of 65) took at least five, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not to mention, an astounding 50 percent of Americans don’t take their medications as prescribed by their doctors.

People take medications for different reasons, including managing health conditions, preventing or slowing disease, relieving symptoms and more. However, the CDC estimates that failure to keep up with medication regimens contributes to 30 to 50 percent of chronic disease treatment failures and 125,000 deaths per year in the United States.

Americans forgo their daily medication routines for many reasons, reports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Failure to understand the directions
  • Numerous medication regimens
  • Unwanted side effects
  • Cost
  • Perception of effectiveness

It’s important to take your prescribed medications—and take them as instructed. Have trouble remembering how much medication you need to take or how frequently you need to take it? These solutions will help you establish a routine.

While these general tips can be helpful for most people, keep in mind that some medications must be taken at certain times of the day, with food or on an empty stomach. You’ll want to make sure you adhere to the medication guidelines that come with your prescriptions.

1. Keep a record of the specifics
In order to properly manage your medications, you’ll want to keep these points in mind:

You may want to keep your medication’s information packets in a folder or write out the specifics in a journal, app, or computer document. Many experts recommend that you carry a list of your current medications in your purse or wallet, as well.

Do make sure you understand the timing of the medications, storage details, dosage specifics, and any side effects that may accompany the medication. Always consult with your pharmacist or doctor if you have questions about when to take your medications.

Once you understand the specifics of your medications, these tips can help you stay on track.

2. Use technology
Whether it’s an Excel file on your computer, or a free app like Sharecare for iOS and Android, it’s imperative you find a tool that will help you stay organized. Sharecare allows you to input the exact medication you take each day, how often you need to take it and then prompts you to check off each dose as you take it.

Find a method that works for you and get in the habit of recording which medications you take and check them off each time you take them.

3. Store them in a pill box
Pill caddies are labeled and compartmentalized by day of the week, and in some cases the time of day (morning, afternoon, and evening), and they make it easy to store all of your pills.

Investing in these inexpensive pill organizers can help you keep track of what you’ve taken and what you still need to take each day.

Set aside some time each week to load your pill boxes with the medications you need. Not only will you be able to keep track of what you’re taking each day, a pill box will also prevent you from having to carry around individual bottles of medication.

It’s a good idea to display your pill box somewhere you’ll see it—think your kitchen or bathroom counter.

4. Set an alarm
Another way to make sure you’re getting all of your medications when you need them, is to set an alarm for each medication. Set an alarm on your watch, phone, or other device each time you need to take some sort of pill. If you’re able to label the alarm, tag it with the name of the medication so you know what to take, when.

5. Write them in your calendar
Schedule a reminder on your phone, wall calendar, or online calendar. Simply write down the medications and the times to take them. It might help to cross them off as you take each dosage. 

6. Try sticky notes
Tried and true sticky notes can be great reminders, too. Post them in the bathroom, kitchen or other common areas of the house where you’re likely to see them.

7. Flip the pill bottle over
If you’re having trouble remembering whether you’ve taken a prescription or not, you could get in the habit of flipping your pill bottle or box over each time you take your medication. If the caddy or bottle is right-side up, that means you’ve yet to take it, and if it’s upside down, that means you’ve taken your dose for the day. And remember, always be sure the top or lid is screwed on tight.

8. Pair it with another task
Regardless of your medication schedule, you may want to take your medication while doing another everyday activity that you’re not likely to forget. Try taking your medication around the same time you:

  • Brush your teeth
  • Read the paper
  • Eat a meal
  • Take a shower
  • Get in bed at night

9. Stay organized when traveling
When traveling, make sure you always bring the medications you’ll need for the duration of your trip, plus a few days extra in case you’re delayed returning home. Pack your medication in your carry-on luggage in case your bags get lost or delayed and to prevent any alterations to your medications, which can happen in extreme hot or cold temperatures. 

Communicate with your doctor
No matter what your routine is, make sure you talk with your doctor about all of your prescriptions.

How frequently you visit the doctor might depend on different factors including which health conditions you’re living with. The FDA recommends you discuss each prescription medication at every doctor visit. Your doctor can determine whether the medication is working, whether you still need to take it, and if there are certain lifestyle changes (like lowering fats in your diet or exercising) you can make to reduce the amount of medication you need.

Make sure to discuss the following with your doctor:

  • Every prescription medication you’re taking
  • Any supplements you’re taking
  • Any side effects you’ve experienced
  • Any changes in mood, eating habits, or medical history you’ve noticed
  • Cost and financial assistance options for your individual medications

When your doctor prescribes a new medication or changes a prescription, make sure you get a good explanation of why and how to take it. And remember, it’s important not to stop taking any medication without talking with your doctor first. Doing so may cause serious side effects or harm.

Taking medication is often a necessary part of life, so staying organized and on top of your prescriptions is the key to managing health conditions and staying healthy. But remember, in addition to taking medications, healthy lifestyle choices, like a well-balanced diet and a regular fitness routine are important, too.

Article sources open article sources

Charlesworth CJ, Smit E, et al. Polypharmacy Among Adults Aged 65 Years and Older in the United States: 1988-2010. The Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences. 2015. 70(8), 989–995.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Health Statistics. Therapeutic Drug Use. October 20, 2021. Accessed April 6, 2022.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Why You Need to Take Your Medications as Prescribed or Instructed. February 16, 2016. Accessed April 6, 2022.
McCarthy R. The price you pay for the drug not taken. Business and Health. 1998 Oct;16(10):27-8, 30, 32-3.
Boron JB, Rogers WA, & Fisk AD. Everyday memory strategies for medication adherence. Geriatric Nursing (New York, N.Y.). 2013. 34(5), 395–401.
MedlinePlus. Taking medicine at home - create a routine. August 13, 2020. Accessed April 6, 2022.
HIV.gov. Tips on Taking Your HIV Medication Every Day. January 19, 2019. Accessed April 6, 2022.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Medicines and You: A Guide for Older Adults. October 7, 2015. Accessed April 6, 2022.

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