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Manage Your Medication with a System

By , 7:04 pm on

Recent shocking discovery: I’m 50 years old, a well educated, working professional, don’t have dementia, and I can’t take one medication on its proper schedule. Imagine the difficulty a person has when trying to manage medication for himself and his wife, when between the two of them, they have 11 different medications for 3 different chronic conditions.

Everybody needs a method for taking medications properly.  If you’re taking more than one, you need a system which includes a clear list of medications, indicating for each the prescribing doctor, reason for taking, and times and methods for taking, and a pillbox, stocked with the current medications.  This may sound like over kill, but it is not.  As we age, the seriousness of our conditions often increase; proper medication management is the difference between reducing your risk of stroke by taking the your blood thinners in the right quantity and at the right time or increasing your risk for stroke.

Managing your medications requires a multi-front effort.  You will need to cover what you have, track new medications, use your physician and pharmacist as resources, and follow instructions.  First make a full assault on your medicine cabinet and all the pills, creams, liquids, or sprays stored there.

Understand what you have

  • Prescription medication:

    doctor ordered, purchased at a pharmacy

  • Over-the-counter (OTC):

    stuff you buy to use occasionally for aches, pains, colds, or heartburn; can be purchased almost anywhere, with out a doctor’s order

  • Vitamins and dietary supplements

    : can be purchased almost anywhere, with out a doctor’s order

Be on the alert for drug interactions:  These can happen between prescription and OTC medications, vitamins, supplements, and food.  The first line of defense against interactions is giving your doctor a complete list of what you are taking.  The second is using a single pharmacy for your medications.  (For two posts on food and drug interactions, see Drug interactions and Medication Interactions with Food.)

Before a trip to the doctor, make two lists

  1. List everything you take regularly and why
  2. List everything you take once in a while and why
  3. List side effects you have noticed from taking any medication.  For example, you might explain that a certain antibiotic upsets your stomach so much it sometimes causes vomiting.  Other possible side effects you have noticed might be rashes, dizziness, mood changes, or indigestion.


Be clear about new medications:  Ask your doctor the following questions and write down the answers:

  1. Name of medication
  2. Reason for taking it
  3. How to take it
  4. For example, if the bottle says take 3x/day, does that mean three times with in a 24-hour period?
  5. What does “as needed mean?”
  6. If the bottles says with food, any food? with liquid, any liquid?
  7. What to do if a dosage is missed
  8. Possible side effects, when they become a problem, and what to do then
  9. When to stop the medication


The pharmacist is an important resource for medication management.  First, try to use a single pharmacy for all your medications so one location has records of prescription medication. If that is not possible, share your list of medications with all the pharmacies you are using.  Second, ask the pharmacist questions about prescription and OTC medication, how to take, side effects, and where to store.  If you have trouble swallowing pills, the pharmacist will tell you whether you can crush, break, or chew a medication, or whether a liquid version should be used instead.  If you can’t open the container, the pharmacist can use a different package.

At the pharmacy

check the medication label to make sure it has the following. If not, speak with the pharmacist.

  • Your name on it
  • The doctor’s name
  • The drug name
  • The directions for taking it.

Now, that you have the new medication, revisit your system

  • Update your lists of medications.
  • Keep one copy of it in your wallet and one copy where the medications are stored.
  • Sort your medications in to a pillbox with individual days of the week and individual times of day, if necessary.
  • Follow doctor’s orders and take your medication as prescribed. Some people tie the dosage time to something they are already doing to help them remember, such as mealtime or teeth-brushing time.

Key source information for this article: National Institute of Health
Additional resources:
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Food and Drug Administration
Partnership for Prescription Assistance
National Institute on Aging

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