Managing Your Medications

Editor’s Note: A crucial part of looking after yourself is managing the medicines you’re taking – by, among other things, understanding how and when you’re taking them; being consistent; storing them properly; and noting when you should ask for a refill. Here, the best tips for being an efficient medication manager, from the SeniorHealth division of the National Institutes of Health:

Keeping track of your medicines is very important. Making sure that they are stored properly, that they have not expired when you take them, and that prescriptions are refilled requires time and attention.

Also, taking many different medications at the same time is difficult. It can be hard to remember what each drug is for, when you should take it, and how you should take it. This is especially true for people with memory problems. Try these strategies:

Keep a checklist of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take. For each medicine, mark the amount you take, the time of day you take it, and whether it should be taken with food. Store two copies of the list: one on the refrigerator door or where your medications are stored, and one in your wallet or purse. For a sample chart, click here.

Review your medicine record at every visit to the doctor and whenever your doctor prescribes new medicine. Your doctor may have new information about your medicines that might be important to you. Whenever possible, have your health care provider write down advice and instructions for taking each medication. Keep this information handy.

Ask your pharmacist to provide your medicine in large, easy-to open containers with large-print labels. Keep medicines in their original containers, and never put more than one kind of medicine in the same container. Consider using multi-day dispensers that organize your medicines by the day and time that you should take them.

To determine how a medication should be stored, ask your doctor or pharmacist and/or read the label. Some medications must be stored in the refrigerator. Your bathroom medicine cabinet is not a good place to store most medications due to the moist, warm conditions that can cause drugs to break down more quickly.

Don't stop taking a prescription drug unless your doctor says it's okay — even if you are feeling better.

Get prescriptions refilled early enough so you won't run out of medicines. Check expiration dates frequently and discard any medicines that are out-of-date.

Keep all medicines out of the sight and reach of children and away from pets. If children do visit your house, be extra cautious and have the phone number of the nearest poison control center handy.

Be prepared in case of accidental poisoning involving medications or other substances. Call Poison Help at 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a poison expert at the poison center serving your area. The service is free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and calls are always free and confidential. Interpreter services are also available in 160 languages. Keep the number programmed in your home phone and mobile device. For more information, visit the Poison Help website at

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