Missed a dose of medication recently? You aren't the only one. In fact, research suggests that as many as 50% of medications aren't taken as prescribed—and the most common reason for missing doses, according to a 2014 review by researchers from Johns Hopkins, is forgetfulness.
Problem is, as we get older, we have even more medication to keep track of. According to a 2016 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, approximately 87% of people aged 62 to 86 are taking at least one prescription drug, and nearly 36% are taking five medications at the same time.
While forgetting to take the occasional pill or two may be no big deal for some people, it can be dangerous for others. The Johns Hopkins review estimates that medication nonadherence—or failing to take your medications as prescribed—is responsible for at least 10% of all hospitalizations in older adults.
The good news: There are plenty of tools, apps, and containers available that can help you keep track of which pills to take, when. Here are a few of our favorites.
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1. Pill organizers
"Pillboxes are the easiest, most accessible [tools] for separating pills," says Ron Factora, MD, a professor of geriatrics at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio. Plus, they also come in a variety of different sizes and forms: Some hold a week's-worth of pills, while others can store a month's-worth of medication.
We like the Ezy Dose Weekly 4x/Day Push Button Medtime Planner, a weekly pill organizer with containers for morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Or, you can also opt for a "smart" pillbox, like the GMS Med-e-lert 28-Day Automatic Pill Dispenser or the LiveFine 28-Day Pill Dispenser; both can hold up to 18 aspirin-sized pills and contain built-in alarms and safety locks (which can help prevent you from taking extra meds unnecessarily).
When you're on-the-go, you might want to spring for a travel-sized pill organizer. The Lewis N Clark is a lightweight organizer that comes with nine clear plastic pouches, while the Xinhome Pill Organizer comes in a black leather case and color-coded containers for each day of the week.
2. An alarm
If you have to take medications at a specific time, it's a good idea to schedule a daily alarm, either on your smartphone, timer, or even smartwatch, says Dr. Factora. There are also digital watches that provide reminders, too: The e-pill Cadex VibraPlus 8 allows you to set up to eight alarms per day. Bonus: They can be set to sound, vibrate (good for privacy), or both.
3. Medication tracker
Prefer a more low-tech option? Try using a paper medication chart that contains information like the name of your medication, the dosage you need to take each day, and any instructions about how to take it (for example, with or without food). The National Institute on Aging has a printable medication tracker, as does the American Heart Association. You can also ask your doctor to help you fill out the chart.
5. Drug interaction apps
According to the 2016 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, nearly 1 in 6 seniors are at risk for potential drug interactions. (Antihistamines, for example, can worsen the sedative effects of antidepressant medications, causing drowsiness; they can also increase your heart rate if you're taking certain blood pressure meds, according to the Food and Drug Administration.)
While your pharmacist (or doctor) will likely be your go-to source for any-and-all drug-related questions, it never hurts to have a backup at your fingertips—literally. The Epocrates app (free, Android and IOS) can check for potentially harmful drug interactions for up to 30 drugs at once.
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