To get the most benefit and to reduce potential risks, you must take medications as directed. Organizing your medications can be difficult, especially if you take several medications each day, at different times, and with different instructions. Two common concerns when managing medication include:
- Keeping track of multiple medications.
- Remembering whether or not a medication has been taken.
An organized system for taking medications can make medication management easier and help to guarantee you are taking your medication as directed. Keep in mind any limitations you may have (e.g., vision, memory, or mobility) when creating a medication system. It is important to develop a system that works for you.
A medication chart is a written record of all the medications you take and when you take them. This should be kept in a place where it is easy to read and refer to such as the bathroom or kitchen. This is a good record to have regardless of whether you need medication reminders or not.
- Use a good-sized sheet of paper.
- Draw five columns and label the top of each column with the following:
- Medication Name and Purpose (what is the medication used for?)
- Color and Shape
- Directions (how should medication be taken?)
- Times (when should medication be taken?)
- Pharmacy source (where do you get the medication? local pharmacy, mail in pharmacy, other)
- Complete this information for each medication you take.
- Include all over-the-counter medications you may be taking as well.
Medication Check-off Chart
A medication check-off chart can be used to remind you to take medications and/or remind you whether a medication has been taken. This chart can be kept near where medications are stored or can be carried with you.
- Use an oversized index card or a larger sheet of paper to record your medication information.
- List the names and directions for each medication you are taking down the left side of the card.
- Draw seven columns and put the day of the week at the top of each column.
- Write down times when each medication is to be taken (e.g., a.m., lunch, p.m., bedtime).
- At the time you take each medication cross off that section on the chart.
- Make photocopies of the chart so you have a new one to use each week.
A color-coded chart can be used in combination with a medication chart or check-off chart. It can be particularly useful for people who have difficulty reading the print on prescription labels.
- Use colored self-adhesive labels or colored markers to code the labels of the medication containers.
- Use colors that are distinctly different from one another. For example, it can be difficult to tell the difference between red and orange, or between dark blue and black.
- Make sure you can see the colors clearly.
- Put a color mark by the name of the medication on your chart that matches the color mark on the label of that medication’s container.
- Be sure to mark the medication containers, NOT the caps. Sometimes caps are returned to the wrong containers. Also, be sure to keep medications in their original containers.
- When refilling a prescription, be sure to give the new medication container its proper color code.
Calendars can be helpful in remembering to take medications. If you take medication only once a day, consider using a daily tear-off calendar. You tear off the dated page after the medication is taken. When multiple medications are taken, a large calendar with large squares may be helpful. You mark on each day which medication should be taken and when. Each time you take a medication, you place a check in the square.
An envelope system can be particularly useful for a person who has difficulty opening bottles or reading medication labels. Before using an envelope system, be sure the medication is not light sensitive. Two envelope systems are used:
- System I. Place each medication into a separate envelope. Print the name of the medication, dosage, and dosage times on the envelope.
- System II. A day’s worth of pills is put into one envelope. Each envelope is labeled with the day of the week, the dosage and description of each medication, and when it is to be taken. Small envelopes containing medication also can be affixed to a dated square on a calendar.
A daily container system might be helpful if you take the same dosage of medications every day. It works best if you take the same pills every day and if pills look different. Example containers might be small glass or plastic bowls or plastic lids turned upside down.
- Check with your doctor or pharmacist first before using any container system that exposes the medication to light, air, or moisture. You need to know if any of your medications will lose their strength if left out in the open for a few hours.
- Label each compartments with the hours of the day, for example one dish is 8 a.m., one is 12 p.m.
- Put the pills into the appropriate compartment each morning.
- Take pills that are in the 8 a.m. compartment at that time, 12 p.m., and so on.
- Do not use egg cartons because of possible traces of bacteria.
Commercial Medication Systems
Commercial medication containers are available at your doctor’s office or local pharmacy. These containers are designed for multiple and single dosage, lasting for a day or for a week. You can fill the container all at once and then take your medications at the specified times. When purchasing medication containers, be sure that individual compartments are large enough for fingers to easily retrieve and to fit multiple pills.
The Calendar (or “Blister”) Card
The Calendar Card is a day-by-day dose card that makes medication taking easier, especially for people who take several medications at different times. A pharmacist prepares these cards.
- A card is prepared for each time of day a person takes medication. If a person is to take medication four times during the day, four cards would be prepared, labeled for different times.
- All medication doses are sealed into the card.
- Each card contains 31 separate sections (called “blisters”) large enough to hold several pills or capsules. Each blister has the date of the month next to it, from 1 to 31, with corresponding stickers indicating the day.
- Cards are customized for each person and repackaged to accommodate changes in prescriptions.
Road Map to Better Health is a comprehensive health record system available through your local county Extension office. There is a section within this document that assists with medication tracking. In this section you are to record medication names, for what condition, the dosage, and the directed pattern of use. You do this for each medication you take. Tracking medication is only one part of this record system. It is important to keep track of all health conditions, medications, financial information, and other items related to health.
Road Map is a way to keep track of all this information. For further information about Road Map, contact your local county Extension office.
Any system that aids you in taking your medications as instructed is helpful. A medication system only works if you use it carefully!