5 Tricks for Remembering to Take Your Meds
Forgot to take your meds again? Stay on schedule with these tried-and-true tips
This story was updated on May 4, 2017.
In a 2016 study, almost 1 in 3 people missed at least one dose of their diabetes drugs within a month. Use these strategies and reminders to stay on track.
1. Add meds to your routine.
Brewing your morning coffee? Reading the newspaper? Take your pills or morning insulin injection, too. “A new behavior is much easier to [make] a habit if you pair it with an existing habit,” says Alison Phillips, PhD, a health psychologist with Iowa State University. Her research shows that having a strong habit is the best predictor of how well someone will stick to a medicine schedule. Adding medications to a daily routine that’s already second nature will help you take your meds.
Morning may be the best time to remember medications taken only once a day (but check your prescription; some once-daily meds are taken at bedtime). People tend to have firmer routines then, Phillips says. Mealtimes, including for pets, and teeth cleanings are other rituals that can include taking meds. It typically takes a few weeks to establish a habit, Phillips cautions, so have backup reminders (more on that coming up) in place until then.
2. Consider smart packaging.
One downside of having a strong habit may be taking medicines so automatically that you sometimes can’t remember whether you’ve taken them or not. An answer to that is a simple, low-tech aid that many certified diabetes educators swear by: the pill box. Set a regular day and time for placing a week’s worth of pills into the box. For larger amounts, try a stack of colorful containers, such as Oveo’s ($16.99, Amazon).
Smart packaging can also help you keep multiple prescriptions straight. One example is PillPack, an online pharmacy that pre-sorts your medicines into single packets labeled with the date, day, and time you need to take them—at no extra cost. Research suggests that ordering 90-day supplies from mail-order pharmacies helps promote taking medication as directed overall, as people don’t need to worry about going out for a refill as often.
A special meds container can be a meaningful reminder, too. Kim Petrecz of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, uses a designer cosmetic bag to hold a full day’s supply of her medications. “It’s the cutest bag,” she says. “It’s part of my routine when we travel and is a great reminder.”
3. Know what you’re taking.
“Having negative attitudes about your medicine can predict forgetting,” says Jeffrey Gonzalez, PhD, a psychologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He studies factors that affect how well people comply with their medication schedule. For instance, people are less likely to take their meds as prescribed if the health benefits aren’t clear and if they have no symptoms of their illness. His advice: Ask your provider to explain how each drug works, as well as its potential side effects. Checking your blood glucose as directed may help you to see for yourself that a diabetes drug is working, especially when you start a new medication.
4. Have a system of reminders.
If you’re never without an electronic watch or smartphone, set an alarm or calendar event to alert you when it’s time to take your meds throughout the day. Apps may help, too. One to try is Medisafe; the free app, which works on both Apple and Android devices, allows you to input lists of your medications, set reminders, and alert friends or family members if you’ve forgotten to take your meds. The Mango Health app, also for Apple and Android, gives an audio reminder when it’s time to take your meds and includes a “habits” feature for tracking step count, weight, and blood glucose.
For a fee, you can also hire a service like SageMinder to make one or more phone calls to you per day to remind you to take your medication (sageminder.com; fees start at $18.95 per month). If you like gadgets, try MedCenter’s five-alarm watch ($27.95) or talking alarm clock ($39.95). Or go low tech: Stick notes where you’re likely to see them as you go about your daily routine.
5. Ask for help.
If you often forget to take your medications, ask your provider if it’s possible to simplify your dosing regimen, or ask for help in making a plan that fits your lifestyle. “Sometimes the solution is something as simple as a timer. Other times, it requires looking at regular meal habits and making adjustments to a patient’s schedule, if necessary,” says Renee Cowen, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator with Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center in Harbor City, California.
You can also enlist another person to help remind you when it’s time to dose, but make sure he or she is a positive, supportive teammate. Otherwise, nagging can be counterproductive and annoying, says Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE, a psychologist who runs the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health in Solana Beach, California.
A trusted helper can go a long way. Debbie Blackman Rose of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, sorts pills for her husband’s 10 prescriptions into a labeled to-go bottle for his midday dose and in a pill caddy by his bedside for night. “It helps both of us. I know that he’s taking his meds, and he appreciates that I help him remember,” she says.
A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of a Kaiser Permanente diabetes educator. Her name is Renee Cowen, not Cowan.