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How to remember to take your medication

A senior man taps medication into his hand from a daily reminder dispenser

Many people find remembering to take medication difficult

A senior man taps medication into his hand from a daily reminder dispenser

If you’re one of the estimated 9 million Australians who take prescription medicine every day, there may have been times when you’ve forgotten to take your meds. Or perhaps you’ve had days when you’ve been on autopilot and (frustratingly) can’t remember whether you’ve taken them or not.

If so, you’re not alone. Many people find remembering to take medication difficult. And some medications are easier to remember to take than others, says Patricia Tonel, nib’s head of clinical advisory and support services.

“Medicines that you can store anywhere and ‘attach’ to your usual daily routines ¬– such as brushing your teeth or having a meal – are often easier to remember,” Patricia says.

“It can be more difficult to remember to take medications that have to be stored out of view, perhaps in the refrigerator, or that have to be taken in an unusual way,” she says.

This includes skin patches that need to go on your arm or chest or medicine stored in the fridge that needs to be taken half an hour before food.
Some of the reasons why people forget to take their medicine are:

  • When it’s a new medication and not part of a routine yet

  • Being on multiple medications

  • An interruption to normal routines or distraction (such as being on holiday or increased responsibilities)

  • A declining memory

  • Confusion over dosage.

“And sometimes, when someone’s symptoms reduce, they don’t have the physical reminder or trigger, such as pain, to remind them to take their medication,” she says.

Related: 10 brain exercises to improve your memory

A young woman drinks a glass of water with one hand and holds a medication bottle in the other while sitting upright in bed

Why it’s important to take your meds – and to take them correctly

Each year more than 230,000 Australians are estimated to be hospitalised because of problems caused by their medicine or the way they have taken it. Medication side effects usually occur when someone takes too much of the drug, and it becomes toxic, or they take too little of it, and it becomes ineffective for treatment.

“The goal of any medication that needs to be taken on an ongoing basis, such as an antidepressant, is to get it to a ‘steady state’,” Patricia says. “This means getting it to the point at which the amount that goes into the body is equal to the amount that's eliminated.”

What if you can’t remember whether you took your medicine?

If you do forget to take your meds, what you should do next will depend on the medicine you’re taking, Patricia says.

“Some medicines, including antihistamines for allergies or ointments that are to be applied daily, can be taken as soon as they are remembered, while others should not be taken until the next scheduled dose at the usual time.”

Always ask your doctor or pharmacist what to do if you forget to take your meds.

Related: I have a health concern, what do I do?

Tips to learn how to remember to take medication

While remembering to take medication can be tricky, these tips may help:

  • Set an alarm

  • Make it part of a routine (eg brushing your teeth, going to bed)

  • Carry an emergency supply with you (for when you forget to take it at home)

  • Put your medication where you can see it (on the kitchen/bathroom bench)

  • Put reminder notes around the house (or on the fridge if medicine’s stored in there).

If you are taking multiple medications on an ongoing basis, one tip Patricia recommends for how to remember to take pills is getting a pill organiser that stores your daily doses. You could ask your pharmacist about a disposable blister pack that they can dispense the medication into, making it easy to identify, check and take.

There are also “medicine reminder” or “pill tracker” apps you can download that let you set reminders for how to take your pills.

Another suggestion is to ask your doctor, pharmacist, friends and family what works for them. They might have some creative ways to remember to take medication. This may even include a “buddy system” where someone helps remind you to take your meds.

Need to head to hospital?

If you're an nib member heading to hospital soon, make sure you check out our Going to Hospital page. This tool gives you information on health insurance, tips on how to reduce any out-of-pocket expenses and helpful questions to ask your specialist. To find out the details of your current policy, chat with someone about your upcoming hospital visit or get some guidance, call us on 13 16 42.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

About Patricia Tonel

Patricia Tonel has a Master of Nursing and Executive Masters of Business Administration and spent almost 20 years working as a registered nurse in surgical and intensive care nursing and managing programs that help achieve a healthier population. Patricia is known for her baking skills and can whip up a hummingbird cake or a tray of chocolate-chip cookies anytime.

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