Making Complex Medication Management Simple and Stress-Free

I Hit the Ground Running

When I took over caregiving responsibilities for my Mom, it wasn’t the best of circumstances. My brother was dying of cancer, and I was getting ready to move our mother 500 miles from New Jersey to Maine. She would be leaving the assisted living facility where she’d lived for four years and moving into a board and care home near me. Even though I’d hire a caregiver to administer her twice daily medications, I would be managing them.

After negotiating the release of the unused portion of all her perscriptions, a task that was a LOT harder than I thought it should be, I also managed to get, with the help of a clever pharmacist, a “vacation” issuance of all her medications, so that we would have enough meds to last until her first apointment with her new doctor.

I remember packing away the medications and thinking they were almost as precious as the framed family photos and my father’s letters from the Army.

I Made All the Mistakes

I had blister packs from the assisted living and pill bottles from the pharmacy. I had brand names and generic names. I had a list of what to take and how often. I purchased a med organizer with 4 compartments for each day of the week. I found myself squinting at labels, juggling bottles and blister packs, and making little lists to remind me which meds were which.

If this had been the only thing I’d had to keep track of, it probably wouldn’t have mattered how many times I had to re-read atorvastatin, or levothyroxine, or memantine, or hydrochlorthiazide. But of course it wasn’t. I had to track and manage everything about my mother’s life.

My “method” was to carry all the blister packs and pill bottles in a cloth grocery bag to Mom’s place and refill the med organizer using the list as a guide. While I was doing this, I would also be answering questions from Mom, which, minus the responses in my head [in brackets] went something like this:

Mom: “What are those?” [The medications you’ve been taking for the past couple of decades.] Me: “Your pills, Mom.”

Mom: “Wow, I take all of those?” [Isn’t it great how well you remember the important things?] Me: “Yep.”

Mom: “I don’t remember taking them….” [Um…] Me: “That’s why someone comes in twice a day and gives them to you.”

Mom: “Oh! I don’t remember that.” [The point, Mom, the point.] Me: “That’s okay, you don’t have to.”

Meanwhile, I’d be checking the blister packs against the bottles for expiration dates, checking the list for how often, and filling the med box like an improvisational dance. And, inevitably, I’d lose track of what I was doing and have to fish out some pills and start over. Or I’d end up with too many in the morning, and none in the afternoon, and have to re-balance them to make it easer for her to take them.

After Mom’s first doctor’s appointment, we started needing refills, which added another dimension to the task. If I was running low on a medication, I’d flag it with a yellow stickie note, call it in, and put it away. Often, when I opened the box of medications, the stickie would have come off, and I’d be wondering if I’d called in the refill.

When I got a refill, I’d have two bottles of the same medication and that would confuse me.

I Needed More Than a Piece of Paper

Despite my list, I still didn’t know whether a certain medication was to be taken in the morning, evening, afternoon, or at bedtime, unless it was specified. I also couldn’t see the tiny print half the time. Since I had multiples of everything, I numbered them so that I’d know which ones to dispense first. There was Atorva1 and Atorva2. Levo1, Levo2.

Have you ever noticed that, aside from the tiny print saying which medication it is, all pharmacy bottles look identical??

My Lightbulb Moment →Four Smart Moves

My first smart move was to buy a second med organizer so that I could fill it at home, away from interruptions. The second smart thing I did was to decide the time of day a med should be taken and write it on the list, so that it was no longer “1 time daily,” “2 times daily,” and so on. Then I must have had a power surge, because the light bulb got even brighter: I numbered the bottles and repeated those numbers on the list, so that I wouldn’t have to squint at identical labels any more. My last smart move was to say yes to letting the pharmacy track and fill Mom’s meds, so that all I have to do is pick them up when they’re ready.

The last step was to apply my O.T. training and, after analyzing the task of taking out bottles, filling the organizer, and putting them away, I created a system where I was handling each medication bottle ONCE. This eliminated the “Was I filling this, putting it away, or taking it out?” situation that can so easily happen when both multi-tasking and being interrupted–and did I mention squinting?

A Whole System Anyone Can Do

And that’s how the Easy, No-Fail Medication Management Method was born! It includes a list of supplies, step by step instructions, a Medication Tracking Sheet, and detailed guidelines for how to handle medication changes so they don’t throw off your entire system. Illustrated with photos from real life (mine), it’s available as a digital download. Which means you can print out as many tracking sheets as you need, for free.

So, if you are ready to say good-bye to med box stress–squinting, confusion, fear of errors, multi-tasking with interruptions–and say hello to simple and handled, check out the Easy, No-Fail Medication Management Method in our Etsy shop.

Published by Phyllis Capanna

Phyllis Capanna, MA, OTR/L, occupational therapist and counselor, creates mental health and wellness printables to help you shift your moment in times of change.

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