What to do if you can't remember if you took your medication
We’ve all forgotten to take our medications or supplements at some point — or forgotten if we actually did take them. The thought of whether we did or not can gnaw at us throughout the day. What to do?
Depending on the medication, you may need to call a healthcare professional or speak with a pharmacist to find out what you should do. They can let you know if the best step is to wait until the next day to take your medication or if it wouldn’t hurt to take another dose even if you may have already taken one.
Some medications, such as those that treat diabetes, mental health conditions like ADHD and depression, pain, and high blood pressure, shouldn’t be taken if you can’t remember if you already had it or not. It’s better to wait till the next dose. Other medications and supplements won’t cause harm if you take them twice, such as birth control pills.
Tips to help you remember
Forgetting to take our medications is one of the challenges of medication adherence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It estimates that about half of people in the United States take their medications incorrectly.
A 2021 study found that 42% of people with coexisting conditions didn’t stick to their medication, which includes not taking prescribed medication. A 2018 study said that medication nonadherence led to 100,000 preventable deaths in the United States.
Certain practices can help us remember to not only take our medication but also not have to face the uncertainty of whether we’ve taken our medicines on a given day. Here are some tips:
Take them at the same time every day
Having a specific time of day or even a specific hour in which you take your medication can help you remember to take them because it’s built into your routine. For example, you can take your medications right after breakfast or just before you go to sleep.
If you’re taking several medications that need to be spaced out, you can build the medication schedule into your eating routine, for example. You can take your first medication after breakfast, the second after lunch, and so on.
Use a pill organizer
Pill organizers and pill boxes are a great way to organize the medications you have to take on a daily or weekly basis.
You can get into the routine of filling the pillboxes on the same day of the week. When one of the compartments is empty, you’ll know that you’ve already taken the medication for that day.
You can also consider a smart pill bottle, dispenser, or cap. A 2022 study found that smart pill bottles improved medication adherence among people with depression and breast cancer.
Use an alarm or a smartphone reminder (if you can)
You can set up a daily or regular alarm on your phone, smartwatch, or a classic alarm clock to remind you to take your medication.
Use a calendar
If you’re the analog type and prefer to write down on paper your reminders and schedules, you can plan out your medication schedule on a wall calendar, a binder planner, a dry-erase board, or sticky notes — whichever method works the best for you to plan your day.
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Research has shown that the use of medication reminder apps can help increase medication adherence. A 2020 study found that using mobile apps to help people with hypertension remember to take their medication and better manage their blood pressure. Researchers of a 2021 study also saw the same effect in people with cardiovascular disease.
Several apps can help you keep track of medication, such as Dosecast, Pillboxie, Care4Today, and RoundHealth.
What to do if you can’t remember
If you already apply the above tips but still can’t remember if you’ve taken a dose on a certain day, there are things you can do.
If you live with a family member or a loved one, they can help you keep track of your medication and let you know if you’ve already taken your medication.
You should also reach out to a healthcare professional or pharmacist and let them know that you can’t tell if you’ve already taken medication. They can help you figure out the next steps, depending on the medication you’re on.
For example, if you’re taking medications for diabetes, like metformin (Riomet), prescription pain relievers, like hydrocodone (Hyslinga), and medicines for ADHD and depression, like sertraline (Zoloft) or lisdexfetamine (Vyvanse), healthcare professionals may advise you to wait till the next day to take the medication.
Other medications, such as birth control pills, may be safe to take twice per day, but always check with a healthcare professional or pharmacist first.
If you have taken two doses of a medication — or you think you have — by accident, contact a healthcare professional. Some medications won’t cause you harm when they’re doubled up, but others can be dangerous.
If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.
Forgetting to take a pill happens to all of us from time to time. And not remembering if we’ve already taken it can be a gnawing thought all day.
The best thing to do is to speak with a healthcare professional because, depending on the medication, it may be safe to take another pill or just wait until your next dose.
Some medications are dangerous when they’re doubled up, such as medications to treat diabetes, pain, ADHD, and depression.
There are things you can do to help you remember to take your medication, such as pill organizers, alarms, apps, and asking a loved one to help you keep track.
Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.
- Al-Arkee S, et al. (2021). Mobile apps to improve medication adherence in cardiovascular disease: Systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8188316/;
- Foley L, et al. (2021). Prevalence and predictors of medication non-adherence among people living with multimorbidity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8413882/
- Kleinsinger F. (2018). The unmet challenge of medication nonadherence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6045499/
- Help patients remember how and when to take their medicine: Tool #16. (2022). https://www.ahrq.gov/health-literacy/improve/precautions/tool16.html
- Li R, et al. (2021). The effectiveness of self-management of hypertension in adults using mobile health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7148553/
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- Park HR, et al. (2022). Effect of a smart pill bottle reminder intervention on medication adherence, self-efficacy, and depression in breast cancer survivors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9584037/
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