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Managing Your Medicines
Tips and Tools That Can Help

by Joshua J. Neumiller, PharmD, CDE, CGP, FASCP

Let’s face it: We all forget things from time to time. Often, the consequences are relatively minor, such as when we forget to pick up the dry cleaning or take out the trash on garbage day. But forgetting to take prescribed medicines — or taking them incorrectly because you’ve forgotten when or how to take them — can have quite serious consequences. One study of older adults showed that up to 40% didn’t take their medicines as prescribed and that this sometimes resulted in a hospital admission or even placement in a nursing home.

People with diabetes often have a lot to remember: not only to take their medicines on time and in the right doses, but also to check their blood glucose level up to several times a day, possibly to monitor their blood pressure, and, in many cases, to keep notes on food and exercise. It’s no surprise that some things can occasionally get overlooked.

But if you’re forgetting to take your medicines more than occasionally, forgetting to get prescriptions refilled, or often having trouble carrying out parts of your diabetes care plan because it’s so complicated, it’s time to think about setting up a system that will help you remember to do what you need to do. Often, it is best to do this with help from a friend, family member, or medical professional who is involved in your diabetes care.

This article describes a number of techniques, devices, services, and other resources that can help you keep your medicines straight and take them at the right times.

Memory tricks
One of the most effective ways to remember to take your medicines is to make a mental connection between taking your medicines and performing some other part of your daily routine. For example, many medicines are supposed to be taken with certain meals, so the meal itself can serve as a reminder to take the medicine. For medicines taken at bedtime, brushing your teeth, changing into your pajamas, or getting your nighttime glass of water can be the cue that reminds you to take your medicine.

Here are some ways to make these mental connections with your medicines easier:

Keep them visible. Keep your medicines out and readily accessible where you are most likely to take them. For example, if you are supposed to take a medicine with breakfast and you have toast every morning, placing the medicine bottle near the toaster may help you remember to take it in the morning. Or you might keep all of your medicines in a high-traffic area in your home, such as the kitchen or dining room, that you pass through frequently during the day.

Keep in mind, however, that keeping your medicines in accessible places could pose a risk if you have small children or pets in your home. You may need to choose less accessible places that children and pets cannot reach, or keep your medicines out of sight.

Post reminders. If keeping your medicines in visible places is not possible or practical for you — or if it’s not enough of a reminder — try posting notes to yourself on the refrigerator, on the bathroom mirror, or next to your computer. Use bright colors to help the notes catch your eye. You may also have a calendar application on your computer (or connected to your e-mail program) that can be set up to automatically display daily reminders on your desktop. Or you could set up an online calendar (such as a Google calendar) to send you reminders by e-mail or as text messages to your cell phone.

Get help from others. Your friends, family members, or caregivers may be willing to help you manage your medicines, either by helping with organization, such as filling your pillboxes every week, or by reminding you in person or with a phone call when it’s time to take something. They may also be willing to help you remember to request refills on time.

Simple tools
For people who take more than a couple of medicines on a daily basis, organization is often the key to effective medicine management. These time-tested tools are easy to use and can lead to significant improvement in your ability to manage your medicines.

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