A common reason people don’t take their medication is because they simply forget. For instance, taking medication can become so reflexive that you’re unsure whether you took your pill or not, said Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and author of Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook. He compared it to other autopilot activities, like driving to work.
You also might confuse thinking about taking your medication with actually doing it, he said. “This is especially likely with repeated activities where we have a lot of memories of the task [blurring] together,” he said.
With many medications there are also no immediate consequences. So you might not realize you missed a dose. It may take a few days or weeks to notice a big difference, said Kelli Hyland, M.D., a psychiatrist in outpatient private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Some people are ambivalent about taking medication. “Due to judgment and misunderstanding, individuals with mental illness sometimes feel they should be able to ‘think’ their way out of their symptoms, and may feel ‘weak’ or guilty for ‘relying’ on a medication,” Dr. Hyland said.
She helps patients understand that the goal of medication isn’t “cure, but care.” “A reduction in a few of the more disturbing symptoms allows people to regain hope, quality of life and the ability to begin to incorporate behavioral changes that can be part of a lifelong process to improve overall well-being,” she said.
In other words, medication is just one piece of a health and wellness plan, Hyland said.
Simple Strategies for Taking Medication
According to Hyland, it’s vital for patients and prescribers to discuss medication-taking strategies because “what is helpful for one person may not be for another.” Always communicate with your doctor about any concerns, and work as a team, she said.
Here are 8 simple ideas for remembering to take your medication; please discuss them with your doctor:
1. Use a pillbox.
“The best and easiest strategy is to put your medication in a weekly pillbox that has a compartment for each day,” Tuckman said. It doesn’t just visually remind you to take your medication but also prevents double doses, Hyland said. She suggested filling your pillbox with any medications, supplements or vitamins your doctor has prescribed.
2. Take advantage of technology.
If you’re usually plugged in, set up electronic reminders, Hyland said. For instance, you can create email or text alerts to signal it’s time to take your medicine.
3. Combine with a daily task.
Tie taking your medication with an activity you do every day, such as making coffee or brushing your teeth, Tuckman said. “This works much better than taking the medication at a free-floating time or in the midst of other variable activities [such as] mid-morning,” he said.
4. Create a self-care ritual.
Carve out time in the morning or evening to take your medication while practicing self-care, Hyland said. For instance, in the morning, she suggested drinking hot tea, reading the paper, walking around the block, meditating, stretching or writing. This doesn’t have to be a big chunk of time. It can be just 10 to 15 minutes, she said.
5. Set an alarm.
“Setting a daily alarm can be helpful, especially if the timing requirements for when you are supposed to take it tend to be tighter,” Tuckman said.
6. Break out of autopilot.
“[Make] it a point of noticing when you take your medication,” Tuckman said. For instance, before taking your pill, pause, look at it in your hand, and tell yourself: “I’m taking Tuesday’s pill now,” he said. “This makes it more likely that you will have a specific memory trace for today’s dose.”
7. Keep it visible.
As Tuckman said, “out of sight, out of mind.” So if you’re just starting your medication, leave it out in an easy-to-spot place, he said.
8. Enlist a loved one’s help.
It can help to have a non-judgmental, positive person who understands your situation support you through treatment, Hyland said. This person can help you remember to take your medicine or be there to give you a high-five after attending your appointment, she said.