Managing Medicines When You Have Memory Loss

Twenty-nine percent of older adults take at least five prescription medicines every day. Often, different doctors prescribe these medications. Remembering to take several medicines each day can be difficult for anyone, especially if the medicines must be taken at different times. Remembering these routines can be particularly challenging if you have memory loss.

Here are some ideas to help you manage your medicines:

  • Make a list of all the medicines you take. For each medicine, write down the name of the doctor who prescribed the medicine, what you take the medicine for, how much you take, and when you should take it.
  • Make sure you include any vitamins, supplements or herbs, and over-the-counter medicines such as pain relievers, cold medicines and antacids on this list. Topical medicines such as creams or eye ointments should be included. If recording all of these medications and vitamins is confusing for you, ask a family member or friend to help you. Make several copies of this list and bring a copy with you when you visit each doctor.
  • On a separate piece of paper, write down a daily schedule with details on when and how to take your medicines, and whether there are specific instructions you must follow. You might need to take three pills in the morning, with breakfast, for instance. You may need to avoid certain foods when taking these pills. Perhaps you should take your medicines with a full glass of water. Talk with your doctor or caregiver if you need help organizing the schedule and instructions.
  • Post this schedule on your refrigerator, on your bathroom mirror and in other places where you’ll see it frequently.
  • Ask your pharmacist to print labels on medicine bottles in large easy-to-read print.
  • Keep your medicines separate from your family members’ medicines. Take only medicines with your name on the container.
  • Purchase “day of the week” pillboxes. These boxes will help you see at a glance if you remembered your medicines for the day. If you are taking multiple medications, you may need more than one of these pillboxes. Have someone help you fill the pillboxes, if necessary.
  • Use a single pharmacy. This way the pharmacists there will know about all the medicines you’re taking, and will be able to check for potential drug interactions that could make you sick.

Here are some other ideas on managing medicines from people with memory loss:

  • Keep a copy of your list of medicines in your wallet or purse. This will come in handy during doctor visits, hospital stays or emergencies.
  • Write on each medicine bottle what the medicine is for, or have someone help you with this.
  • Make your daily medicine schedule a checklist, print a copy for each day, and check off when you take each medicine.
  • Make a note on your calendar every time you take your medicines.
  • Post reminders to take your medicines on “sticky notes” in places where you’re sure to see them.
  • Set an alarm with a clock, or on your phone or computer to remind you to take your medicines.
  • If you’re using “day of the week” pillboxes, consider buying different color boxes for different times of day. Perhaps the pills you take with breakfast are in a red pillbox, while those you take in the evening are in a blue pillbox. You can also put a label on the bottom or side of the pillbox to help you remember when you should take the pills in that box.
  • Ask a friend or family member to help you monitor your medicines and remind you when to take them.
  • Ask your pharmacy about refill reminders to ensure that you don’t run out of medicine.
  • If you use a mail order pharmacy, request that the pharmacy assign you a permanent representative who knows you have memory loss. Ask for a telephone number so you can speak to that representative directly.
  • Leave medicine bottles out where you can see them as a reminder.

And one last tip — make sure children and animals do not have access to your medicines!

Mona Johnson, author of the blog The Tangled Neuron is also author of Living with Memory Loss, a patient guide and resource directory for people with mild memory loss and their families. The guide contains up-to-date medical information, coping skills and memory aids and whole-family strategies for living well now and in the future. Copies are available through The Tangled Neuron by clicking here.