- AARP - https://blog.aarp.org -

Managing Medications: It’s All About Organization

Anyone walking into Mom and Dad’s apartment this evening would have seen me as a cross between a mad scientist, a bean counter and a creative genius at work. Well, I’d like to think the creative genius part would be mixed in, but who knows? It’s that time of month that I have come to dread: the assemblage of 8 weekly pill organizers.  

Why dread it? Here’s why, by the numbers:

22 – The number of prescription medications my parents take between them. I know; outrageous. And it was even more – I’ve been working to try to get them off so many different drugs. Mom has a whopping16 right now and Dad has 6.

24 – The number of supplements they take between them. I really struggle with this one for many reasons…that’s a whole other blog post.

4 – The number of stores I storm to stock up on all the meds and supplements.

3 – The number of hours I spend checking the meds/supplements supplies, making the shopping list and running around –  stocking up. That’s just the prep time.

2 – The number of hours it takes me to get set up  and fill all the pill boxes; add an hour to that when I’m really tired (which is most of the time.)

1 – The number of hours it takes me to recover from all this!  

I first suggested the pill organizers at least 10 years ago when my Dad was still managing both his and Mom’s meds. I witnessed too many arguments when it was time for Mom to take her pills and Dad wasn’t ready with the appropriate ones. At least as far as I was concerned they were arguments;  they would look at me, stunned, when I suggested so and Dad would say, “Sweets we’re just discussing the topic – with feeling!” Hmmm. 

Anyway I could see the strain, so I suggested that Dad assemble a pill organizer (I call them pill boxes) once a week and then they could both simply take their medication when it was time. Voila. That arrangement worked beautifully for several years, until the actually assemblage of the pill boxes became too stressful for Dad. I could see him struggle to keep track of all the pills and make sure they were in the correct slots. It took him longer and longer to accomplish the task and he was exhausted by the time he was done (I know how he felt.)

So then my sister stepped in and filled the pill boxes for them once a week. Mom and Dad were still able to take the pills on their own as long as those boxes were set up. The system hummed along perfectly, aside from the usual glitches with prescriptions running out and that sort of thing.

Fast forward to 2 ½ years ago when I moved to Arizona to care for my parents. I started assembling the pill boxes two at a time. I figured by the time I got all the tools and supplies out and filled one week’s pill box, it wasn’t much more time to fill up a second week – a great time saver and fewer shopping trips.  

It didn’t take long before I bought more organizers and relegated the pill fest to once a month. Why go through that every two weeks? Now I spend one evening a month filling up 4 weekly pill boxes for each of them.

I’ve tried many different kinds of pill boxes over the years. The biggest problem has been finding boxes with individual compartments big enough to accommodate the plethora of pills. Mom takes pills 5 times a day now, so I actually have to use two boxes for her – one with 4 compartments and then a small single-compartment box. Dad only takes pills twice a day, so they each have different types of boxes.   

I also keep an updated chart of all their medications and supplements under their pill boxes so any caregiver or emergency response person can easily find the complete list. The categories in my chart include:

As their health situations constantly change, so do their medications. So I keep a shortcut to their meds/supplements charts on the desktop of my computers so I can easily update the list. This  list is a lifesaver for me as I a) fill their pill boxes, b) give instructions to caregivers, and c) grab a copy every time we go to a doctor appointment or the emergency room. Bonus: I usually get a gold star from the doctors who always seem to be amazed at it. Always nice to get a gold star.   

My system works pretty darn well if I do say so myself. Here’s the rub: every time I go through the process leading up to and filling the pill boxes, update the meds/supplements list or wrangle with the mail order prescription company my blood begins to boil and I think, “they are taking too many pills!”  Not to mention the whole production takes a heck of a lot of time and energy.

But there’s another bonus: I save $165/month by filling the pill boxes myself, and another $175/month by managing the meds (arranging for refills, picking up prescriptions.) We do now pay for medication reminders though: $140.  

Now to go and fill 4 more weeks of pill boxes – for myself!  Sigh.