Previously, we talked about medication adherence in broad terms. In fact, we discussed how it isn’t simply a case of not remembering to take prescribed medication, that there are many factors that contribute to non-adherence. While this is true, we need to backtrack a little because a person’s memory does play a role in medication adherence.

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How Your Memory Works

We remember information in pieces. As discussed in a recent Forbes article, a young person with a fully functioning working memory (the memory that is used when we are conducting mental tasks, such as problem solving) can remember 3 to 5 pieces of information at a time. As we age, our ability to remember information declines. This means the maximum capacity of the working memory in our lifetime is 5 items or pieces of information.

Link to Medications

Now consider that 20% of Americans are prescribed five or more medications each day. You might think that remembering to take five medications every day isn’t a big deal, after all, it’s five items of information, but what about all the extra information that goes with each of those medications? What if you are taking seven medications every day and some of those medications are to be taken with food, while others are to be taken on an empty stomach; some medications are to be taken in the morning, while others are to be taken at night; some are to be taken once a day and some twice a day?

For example, AARP Bulletin discusses how some medications are more effective when taken at certain times of the day. For instance statins, such as Crestor and Zocor (used for lowering cholesterol), are best taken at bedtime, whereas heartburn medications, such as cimetidine and ranitidine, should be taken about a half an hour before dinner is eaten. When it comes to medications and food, some medications, such as the antidepressant Trazodone, should be taken with food and the asthma medication Accolate should be taken on an empty stomach. Taking multiple medications for multiple health issues is when information becomes harder to remember, regardless of your age, simply because there are so many pieces of information to remember.

Simplifying Your Medication Regimen

Since at the mental peak in our lives we can remember 5 items of information at most, there needs to be a way to simplify the medication regimen for people who take five or more medications so that there is less information to remember. If you find that your medication regimen is so complicated that it is difficult to remember what to take and when, then talk to your doctor. There are ways to simplify this regimen so that it will be easier to remember. Some methods for simplifying the medication regimen are as follows:

  • Try to stick with medications that only need to be taken once per day, whether it is a longer-acting drug or a pill that contains more than one medication
  • Take medications that work well with the activities in your life so you can remember to take it in conjunction with an activity, such as with a meal or going to bed
  • Try to minimize the number of medications you take, if at all possible, by prioritizing and eliminating any medication you can do without
  • Print off your free daily medication schedule so you don’t forget to take your medications.

Also, be sure that you ask your doctor or pharmacist to write down the instructions for all medications in plain, everyday language so that it is easier to understand.

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