Order in Chaos: Stop Forgetting Medication Doses

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While Robin’s a physician and understands the importance of keeping everyone on their medications, the reality of remembering in the chaos of being the only person without ADHD used to cause even her to forgot.  It’s so much harder for the parent from who the ADHD was inherited!  (It’s a cruel irony that it’s genetic!)  

And while this post is for any medication or supplement, we’d like to stop for a minute and just say that ADHD medications seem to be specifically designed to be harder for people with ADHD–you have to go to the pharmacy every single month within a couple day window.  Often pharmacies don’t have your prescription in stock so you have to remember to go back another time or drive to other pharmacies.  You have to remember to schedule and keep an appointment with a doctor every three months.  It’s really too much to ask in our opinion. But getting on our soapbox about the difficulty of getting appropriate treatment for ADHD is a whole different topic! Today we’re talking about anything from a daily fish oil to a complex regimen for seizures.

Here are our suggestions for remembering medication doses: 

Use the Right Tools for the Job

At a paid job, employees need to have the tools they need to do their work.  You wouldn’t expect a busy kitchen to function well without the right containers for their supplies. In the same way, you need the right containers for your situation. Robin only takes her thyroid and allergy medication plus some supplements once a day so she uses a basic pill minder that’s large enough to hold her giant fish oil and magnesium capsules.  The rest of the family has morning and evening doses of supplements or medications but you never know when you’re going to have someone on antibiotics so we’ve found it easier to have a pill minder that has three times every day.  Then we can use the same system no matter what.

We count out pills once a week.  We keep all the supplements and prescriptions organized into shallow boxes in the bathroom so we can pull out the boxes and have everything we need without having to search.  This also makes it easier when someone has a doctor’s appointment and you can just grab the box to bring along.  We’ve had a crisis before when a pill bottle has come in the house and then simply disappeared.  By having these boxes, we know that every bottle immediately goes into the correct box and we don’t lose them.

Two orange daily pill minders. The white mailbox is where Tim keeps his pocket contents (keys, work badge, etc) so he can find them.

Our weekly pill minders make a HUGE difference. Each day lifts out separately so instead of having the whole week of meds out on the microwave where we can see them (and therefore remember them), we just set out the one day. Every evening we put away that day and set out the next. Tim was at work when Robin took this photo so his daily pill minder is in his lunch box (see below for more about that) but the kids’ are here. We keep the boxes for all the days in the kitchen cupboard nearby.

A pink travel pill minder that fits nicely in the palm of a hand

Robin also has a travel pill minder in which she has various migraine medications for her and each of the kids and extra allergy medications and throat lozenges.  It’s compact and organized and fits easily into any purse or pack that she’s carrying.  She labelled everything clearly so that if Tim is taking the kids somewhere without her, she can just hand him the case.  Migraines are unpredictable and can ruin the day if you don’t have what you need.

Use a Printed Medication List

We have a paper medication list that we use to make sure that every pillminder is filled correctly.  It can be surprisingly easy to forget something.  Robin has been on thyroid replacement her entire adult life and there have been a few weeks when she’s been really stressed or tired that she has forgotten to put it in her pillminder.  That’s why we use this sheet now.  We find a nice looking full size sheet works better than sticky notes or scratch paper because it’s easy to read and pleasant to look at.  

We print a separate one for each member of the family and then don’t have to redo it until a medication changes.  This also makes it easier for other people to help with this chore.  You can also grab the list to take to doctor’s appointments–and snap a photo to have it with you all the time.  You will not ever regret knowing everyone’s medication list!  And here’s a fun tip–if you use Google photos, if you can remember the color of the paper, you can just search your photos for “blue paper” and your medication list will come up.  How cool is that?

Making It Easier to Remember Than Forget

For a long time we left the entire pillminder for each person on the kitchen counter as a visible reminder.  We have a very small kitchen so this took up valuable space and made the room more cluttered.  Now we have just the one day for each person on top of the microwave and Robin’s inhaler and pill minder in the cupboard.  

Other people have found it useful to keep their medication with their toothbrush or in their coffee pot so they can’t get coffee without moving it.

When Robin used to take a gummy vitamin, she kept it in the cupboard where we keep snacks.  Then when she was feeling munchy, she’d take her vitamin.  

Make sure to keep a few extra doses of important medications in your backpack, purse, or work bag.  That way if you have already left the house and realize that you forgot, it’s not too late!

Using Your Calendar and Alarms Effectively

Finally, we use technology as our auxiliary brains.  There’s no reason you have to remember anything on your own if you really leverage your technology.

We use our calendar religiously.  Every time we have a doctors appointment or pick up a prescription, the due date for the next one goes on the calendar and notifications are set for a few days before and the day of.

While Robin loves paper calendars, we believe that for families with any executive functioning issues among them, it’s really important to have a virtual calendar that syncs between everyone in the family and sends notifications.  We use Cozi and have for many years. [This is an affiliate link for the forever free version of Cozi–you still get it for free but we get a small affiliate fee for referring you.  We only refer people to products we use and love ourselves.]  They have a great free version that we used for the first year or two and then we upgraded to Cozi gold, which we’ve been using ever since.  Every person in the family gets notifications.  However, only Robin notices the notifications.  Oh well.  We try.  At least everyone is trained to enter everything into Cozi. 

It took a month or two for Tim to learn to enter everything into Cozi but now he’s great about checking the calendar before scheduling anything new.  But he doesn’t really look at the calendar otherwise

But if no one but Robin looks at notifications…how does anyone actually use the calendar?  

Our phones don’t have an alarm option for calendar notifications but once a week we sit down as a family and look at what’s coming in the next week and set alarms.  At any given moment the kids have over a dozen alarms to remind them to take their meds, get ready for their activities, eat their lunch, and do their chores.  Tim has a few alarms to remind him to get up, take his meds, and get the kids ready for bed.  

Robin has about 30 separate alarms; some daily, some just on particular days, some just for a particular appointment.  Robin has alarms to wake up the kids in the morning and put them to bed at night, to make sure everyone had their medication, and to stop and pray at 8:50 am (because that’s about when she needs it in order to keep going).  She has alarms for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4pm, Tuesday at 3pm and Saturday at 8am to remind Charlie to get ready for ballet and other days and times for Eleanor’s jujitsu.  She has weekly alarms for Tim’s therapy to make sure he’s found his computer and prepared a space ahead of time.  She has weekly alarms to take out the trash and recycling for garbage day.  She sets one-time alarms for appointments, to pick up prescriptions, and to remember to take care of things that crop up like setting out books on the porch for a friend at an appointed time or splitting a package of office supplies with her sister when they are going to sit outside together and visit.  This sounds like a lot to remember, but it isn’t…she sets the alarm and then doesn’t have to waste any mental capacity on that again. There’s so much to remember in modern life that it’s critical to not think you have to actually remember it yourself.

When we sit down to do the weekly calendar together, we also set any one-time alarms that are needed by anyone and make sure routine alarms are turned on.  For example, the kids alternate weeks of therapy so that alarm gets switched on or off each week. 

We each have our own system of alarms so we know what they mean.  Robin uses one alarm tone just for anything having to do with the kids, another for anything having to do with her, and still another for general household maintenance.  She has a special tone for rest time or self care.  Eleanor uses violin music as her alarm to remind her to practice.  Charlie has ballet music as his alarm to get ready for ballet.  This means that on the first few notes we usually know what the alarm means…or at least what realm of life it is for.  A really meaningful alarm doesn’t just make noise–it gives information. This means that even if you ignore the alarm, somewhere deep in your brain there’s a little voice saying, “Did you remember?” It’s specific–not just some random alarm that you can forget right away. Think about how your smoke alarm and your dryer make different sounds so you know what to do when you hear the sound. It’s important to do the same thing with your phone alarms.

What If An Alarm Goes Off and I Can’t Do What It Says?

We have not yet found a reliable technology that will give you an alarm at a helpful time.  It would be perfect if your device could sense when it’s a good time and alarm right then.  So you have to think about it a bit.

Set alarms for times you can actually do something.  For example, Robin used to try to just take her inhaler at the same time that she was giving the kids their morning meds…but then she missed her inhaler most of the time.  Now she has her inhaler alarm timed just right such that she gets up, uses the bathroom, and then the alarm goes off to remind her to take her inhaler.  Before she has any children to deal with. 

A lot of people have a job where they can’t guarantee exactly when they can get a break.  If that’s you, try very hard to time your medication to not happen during work.  But if you can’t help but take medication at work, try a visual reminder instead.  For example, Tim will put his pillminder on top of his lunch in his lunchbox.  He doesn’t have a set lunch time but when he does sit down for his midday meal, has no choice but to move the pillminder in order to eat.  And the rule is: no moving the pillminder without taking the medication.  So if he doesn’t have his water to take his medication, he can’t eat.  He has to go get water first. 

Try setting alarms for odd times like 8:07 am or 12:03 pm.  Most people set alarms for the exact top and bottom of the hour but these are the times you’re least likely to be able to actually do something about them because it’s when appointments, classes, meetings, and phone calls typically start.  Also, if you tend to snooze alarms (Robin does, sometimes for hours!), they will start overlapping each other if you snooze them for 10 minutes and they are all set for the hour or half hour.  By setting them for odd times, you’re more likely to notice the alarm, be able to respond to the alarm, and if you snooze it, it won’t overlap with other alarms you may also start snoozing.

If you can’t do it right away snooze it.  Sure it’s annoying…but we’ve found that at some point the alarm gets so annoying that you may as well just do THE THING rather than have to hear the alarm again.  Don’t turn off the alarm planning on doing THE THING in a minute–it’s highly likely to not happen.  Only turn off the alarm when you are actually doing THE THING.  Or do it before the alarm goes off again and then turn off the alarm.

If You Are Consistently Missing Doses

If you are consistently missing doses of your medication then talk with your doctor or therapist.  Sometimes it’s because you’re lacking the motivation to take the medication and you need to really talk through that.  Sometimes it’s because you need something with an easier dosing regimen.  And sometimes they can help you figure out ways of remembering.  

We hope this article has helped you keep track of medication in your household! What else do you do to keep track of medication? Let us know in the comments!

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