Medication Management Tips Help Seniors Take the Right Pills at the Right Time

medication management tips

Keeping medicines straight can be difficult for seniors

Getting prescriptions from your older adult’s doctor is just the tip of the iceberg for maintaining their health.

Taking all medications exactly the way they were prescribed is essential for keeping seniors as healthy, comfortable, and independent as possible. It can be dangerous to take certain medicines at the wrong time, too much of one drug, or in the wrong combinations.

We’ve got helpful tips and a simple DIY medication management chart. These help seniors keep all their medicines straight so they’ll be sure to take the right pills at the right time of day.


Why seniors have trouble with medication management

Even if they’re mostly independent, older adults may struggle with taking their medicine correctly.

Reasons for this include:

  • Too many medications with different timing are hard to keep track of
  • Drug names are too complex to remember clearly
  • Vision problems – not being able to read the small labels on medicine bottles
  • Language barriers – not able to read well in English


Simple DIY chart helps seniors take medicine correctly

Creating a simple DIY chart makes it easy to see the timing of each dose of medication. Here’s how to do it.

1. Label medicine bottles and caps with big colored dots or stickers

  • Put a large colored dot or sticker on the medicine bottle and cap
    • Use the same sticker for the bottle and cap to avoid any mix ups
    • Here are some colored dot options in many colors and sizes
  • Make sure the stickers or dots are easily differentiated from each other. Don’t use anything too similar in color or pattern.
    • For more options, get a variety of stickers – happy face, star, dogs, hearts, cats, etc.

2. Match the stickers on the medicine bottle/cap with stickers on a big chart

  • Create a chart on a piece of poster board with the time of day, medication, and anything they need to take the pills with
  • Make it easy to read at a glance, even with poor vision. We recommend printing clearly in large letters.

Here an example of what a simple medication chart might look like. The first row describes what we put in each column. Customize your chart so it will make sense to your older adult. Use whatever will work best for them – pictures, words, more/less info.

Time of day or mealSticker matching one on medicine bottleTake medicine withMedication name or body part it helps (optional)
8 AM
medication safety
Breakfast and a full glass of waterPrinivil
(for blood pressure)medication safety
3 PM
medication safety
2 crackers and small glass of milkCoumadin
(for heart health)medication safety
6 PM
medication safety

medication safety

Dinner and a glass of waterVicodin
(for arthritis pain)medication safety


Xalatan eye drops
(for glaucoma)

medication safety


Review the chart with your older adult

Attach the chart in a visible location next to the medicine. Explain to your older adult how this new system works and how it makes it easier for them take their medicine correctly with no stress.

Slowly walk through how the stickers on the bottles match the ones on the chart. Discuss what you’ve written in each box and make sure they understand the words and images you’ve used.


Bottom line

Most older adults welcome simple systems like these that help them stay healthy and maintain their independence. Plus, you won’t have to spend time trying to quiz them about whether or not they took their medicine.


You might also like:
Did They Take Their Pills? 4 Pill Organizers for Senior Medication Safety
Medications Seniors Should Avoid: The Beers List
Medications Worsen Dementia and Increase Dementia Risk: Anticholinergics


By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: HealthMag


This article wasn’t sponsored, but does contain affiliate links. We never link to products for the sole purpose of making a commission. Product recommendations are based on our honest opinions. For more information, see How We Make Money.


  • Reply September 26, 2014

    Irene Dockins

    Hi Connie- I like the concept, and as Tim commented, sometimes the patient isn’t in sync with the ‘symbol’. Sometimes other things will help.

    I created a spreadsheet for my 86 year old Aunt (who is sharp as a tack!) when she had cataract surgery and was supposed to use 4 different eye drops at different times of day- some 3 X a day, some 4X one once a day! It was very confusing, especially as the bottles are so tiny.
    I color-coded the spreadsheet, to the colors of the ‘caps’ on the bottles. So that the ‘tan’ colored cap of the eye drop correlated with the ‘tan’ column on the spread sheet. The ‘blue’ correlated with the ‘blue’ cap etc. So she knew that at 9 am she should have a drop of ‘blue’ and a ‘drop of ‘green’, and at noon ‘blue’, ‘green’ and ‘tan’ etc. She found it to be very helpful.

    Generally, you just have to figure out what works for that particular person, and that is where the ‘art’ of medicine comes into play. Not everyone fits into a round hole- and care providers must realize this and adjust and be very flexible to insure the best possible outcome. 🙂

    • Reply September 26, 2014

      Connie Chow

      Irene, thank you for the great idea! We love how you customized the spreadsheet to work best for your aunt.

      It’s great to learn about different creative ideas to help older adults manage their medications. As you said, it’s definitely not a one-size fits all situation!

  • Reply September 16, 2014

    TIm Peters

    I attended a conference in Seattle and one of the speakers shared how they used a schedule w images. When the patient returned for a check up this provider noticed the patients blood pressure was off the chart, so the provider asked the patient if they took their medication. Well the patient explained the schedule showed a sun (for morning) and it’s been cloudy so I didn’t take my bp medication. Educators are fascinated by the use of images. They remember how educators used them to teach in elementary school. What often gets overlooked is in that case the teaching process was consistent and repetitive (same students same classroom same teacher). In a medical setting education is done on the fly. Another other key point to consider is the age old maxim a picture is worth a thousand words and therein lies another part of the problem. Use of pictures is like teaching a new language and you must educate the patient on the exact meaning of that image. I have seen one group use a rooster for morning (and this targeted a group of patients from Philadelphia. Really how many roosters live in Philadelphia). Another group used the sun and we have already shared that experience and yet another group used a horn to indicate morning. Regarding the use of stickers on a bottle. I have worked w hundreds of educators who have tried this approach and what they will tell you is it works great when the nurse is there and manages the numbers or dots on the bottle. Where this organizational strategy often goes awry, and quickly, is when the patient no longer receives that carefully managed one on one care. The stark reality is, when a patient leaves the care of the facility they are on there own. And life moves very quickly, and the dots (on the bottle) get disconnected and the patient is left with a confused mess that often leads to taking the wrong med at the wrong time. The best strategy is usually the simplest when it comes to medication therapy. Having an involved caregiver, an easy to understand medication schedule and the proper pill box are the most important steps to following a prescribed medication regimen.

    • Reply September 17, 2014

      Connie Chow

      Tim, thank you for your insightful comment! I agree, getting medication right often takes an involved family caregiver who knows their older adult well. Checking on someone every few months (like at a doctor’s appointment) doesn’t allow adjustments to be made quickly if something isn’t working well.

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