a panicked face reflected in a phone with an alarm going off

Medication Adherence – It's Not Easy

Five years ago, I went from zero pills to ten overnight as a result of a heart attack. I'll never forget the discharge nurse reviewing my medication, what it was, and when to take it. It was overwhelming. Taking and managing medications is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Let's start with remembering to take meds

At first, I tried to use a timer on my watch to alert me. It sometimes worked unless I was in the middle of something or away from home. The alarm would alert, and I say, "ok, I'll get to my meds once I'm done with this" only to forget hours later. There are many apps like MediSafe and Mango Health you can try as well on your phone. I didn't have as much success as others using the apps but fond Mango fun as it included a gaming function that would reward me for my adherence.

On to managing all of those pills

Every Sunday, I fill up my pill sorter. Now and then I screw it up. Once my beta-blocker and statin looked the same, and a few times, I either doubled up on one or the other. I could tell a few hours after if my heart rate went up. Not a good science experiment to try on yourself.

I was able to ask the pharmacist to change the supplier of my beta-blocker, so it didn't look like my statin, and that has helped tremendously. I have since moved 25 minutes away from that pharmacy but continue to use them because they help me with things like this.  Others use PillPack and have found that very helpful.

What else could go wrong?

One time I had a bad headache. I went to my medicine cabinet, and out of habit just picked up my night heart meds and took them on top of my morning ones – instead of Tylenol! These medications included my antiplatelet and beta-blockers. I immediately called my cardiologist, who told me to take it easy. I'd likely be a bit dizzy, they said.

Doubling the antiplatelet meant I was more prone to bleeding, so I had to stay away from sharp objects. My 16 lb cat must have smelled my fear and climbed right next to me to kneed into my side with her claws. My cat was trying to kill me that day! I survived and have since moved my Tylenol to a different cabinet.

My daily checklist

What is working for me now is to make it part of my daily checklist. Every Sunday, I plot out my week, including checkboxes for my medications. Simple solution, but it works for me.

While I haven't figured it all out, here are some suggestions:

    1. Make sure you have a system that works for you. We are all different.  Timers, PillPack, Apps, and other solutions work for some and not others.
    2. Sign up for any manufacturer's assistance programs. You can benefit both financially and personally from their support, especially for new medications. One of mine sent me "am" and "pm" stickers to put on my bottles to help me organize and a schedule.
    3. Rely on your pharmacy and make them a part of your care team. Ask them for solutions and ideas to help you manage your medications.
    4. Take it easy on yourself if you forget. It happens. If you are concerned about a missed dose or a double dose, contact someone on your care team – cardiology, primary care physician, or pharmacist.

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