Q. How can I help my 75-year-old mother organize the different pills she takes for her cancer and other numerous health problems?

A.

Health care professionals refer to taking your pills on schedule as adherence. Having more than one illness makes taking pills harder. Having multiple conditions such as cancer, heart disease, or arthritis increases the number of prescription medications. Older adults may forget to take their many medications and may have difficulty opening pill bottles.

Your mother’s health care team, her pharmacist, and you can come up with a practical pill-taking plan. You and your mother might want to schedule time with your mother’s oncologist or the oncology nurse in the doctor’s office to determine:

  • when the pills should be taken
  • whether any of the pills interact with each other and should not taken at the same time
  • which pills should be taken on an empty stomach or with food
  • how often each pill needs to be taken
  • what to do if she misses a dose

The health care team can make a schedule for her pill taking, noting the hour of the day each pill should be taken and how best to take each pill. Once you have had this conversation, there are a number of tips to support your mother:

  • The pharmacist can help you organize your mother’s pills in a pill-sorting box. Some even come with built in alarms.
  • Encourage your mother to make pill taking part of her daily routine.
  • Enlist help if your mother needs someone to refill her pill-sorting box and remind her to take her pills.

For more information, CancerCare offers a fact sheet, “The Importance of Taking Your Pills on Schedule” and a podcast, Understanding Adherence: The Importance of Taking Your Pills on Schedule.

CancerCare’s professional oncology social workers are available to provide counseling and practical help—call us at 800-813-HOPE (4673).