Four strategies for managing your medications

December 21, 2020 Providence Optimal Aging Team


In this article:

  • More than half of all adults age 65 and older take four or more prescriptions a day.

  • Taking the wrong dose or drug poses a serious health threat.

  • Solutions range from low-tech pillboxes to high-tech virtual options.

  • A Providence physician explains why doctors need to know all the medications you’re taking. 

Does your morning routine include rummaging through multiple bottles of prescription medication? Are the dosage differences and timing requirements of the medicines you need confusing and hard to understand? Do they make it difficult to take your medication as directed? If so, you are not alone.

Research shows that nearly all adults age 65 and older are on at least one prescription medication. More than half are taking four or more prescriptions every day. With all those pills, lotions, and liquids to deal with, it’s no surprise that medication mistakes are a common occurrence.

Taking your medications incorrectly reduces their effectiveness and, in some cases, creates a substantial threat to your health. Here are four tips to help you take your medications safely and effectively.

Get informed

Pay attention to the medications you’re taking. Know their names and always read the label. Verify that you’ve received the correct type and dosage from the pharmacy whenever you have a prescription filled. Make sure you understand any special instructions on how or when the drug should be taken and don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have any confusion or concerns. The better you understand your medication, the more likely you are to use it correctly.

Get organized

Santa isn’t the only one who needs to make a list and check it twice. Keep a record of all the medications, vitamins, and dietary supplements you’re on and share it with your doctor at every visit. It doesn’t have to be too complicated. A handwritten list or simple spreadsheet will do. Include the drug’s name, dosage, and when and why you started taking it. Several online sources, such as or the Food and Drug Administration, provide forms that are easy to download and use.

Get reminders

Use a reminder system (or systems) to help you keep track of your medication schedule for daily use and refills. Most pharmacies offer reminders for when your prescriptions are due for refill. Or you can set an alarm on your calendar or day planner. When it comes to your daily regimen, you can go low-tech and use post-it notes or a day-of-the-week pillbox. Or go high-tech and use one of the many available smartphone apps. There’s even an FDA-approved computerized medication box called EMMA that uses web-based applications to allow remote scheduling and distribution of your medication. What you use depends entirely on your preferences and budget.

Get to know your pharmacist

Your pharmacist is a valuable resource when managing your medications. Most are happy to answer your questions and help you address any potential drug interactions, allergies or side effects. But you can’t always assume the pharmacist knows all of the drugs you are taking – be sure to take the time to have a conversation when you pick up your prescriptions so you leave feeling comfortable with your next steps. Using one pharmacy for all your medication needs can help avoid duplication or dangerous combinations that might otherwise go unnoticed.


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Related resources

Providence Medication Assistance Program Saves Patients Millions

Is your medication to blame for changes in appetite?

Four medications that can affect your memory

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

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