Although I usually write about retirement and what it means to be actively involved in something other than work, every once in a while I feel the need to deal with aging. I know we don’t like to think about it, but aging is something that comes after retirement…or even before…and most of us are in denial when we notice that things about our body or brain just aren’t like they used to be.
Talking with a few friends who are caring for elderly parents, I kept hearing the same thing… “My mom takes too many pills,” or “Dad is constantly at his doctor’s office.” Two different friends who were visiting their parents recently told me they took their parents off certain pills and they were almost immediately more alert, alive and active. My friends thought perhaps doctors sometimes prescribe drugs for elderly patients because it makes them feel someone is listening to their complaints and don’t consider what other drugs they take. Or perhaps the patient really needed all those pills years ago but what they were treating is no longer present. (With electronic mail, one would hope that wouldn’t happen any more, but who knows…) So a reduction in everything except absolutely needed medications like those for the heart or blood pressure seemed to work for these people.
All of this made me wonder if too many of us are taking too many pills. So just like we go through our closets and get rid of clothes we no longer wear or perhaps don’t fit, we should go through our medical closets with the same intention. If you see more than one doctor, it is best if you go through all your medications with your primary care doctor. She or he may not be aware that a specialist you see has put you on a medication that doesn’t go well with one he has prescribed or interacts negatively with a vitamin or supplement you take.
Also, according to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, that weight gain most of us experience as we age means they way drugs are distributed throughout the body is different as well. Drugs stay in the body longer now, so any potential side effects may be increased. As we age, the kidney and liver slow down their cleansing function and just can’t handle all the drugs they used to. A dosage that worked 10 years ago may be too much for you now.
The Harvard report also points out that drugs for insomnia or anxiety have been associated with a higher risk of falling and confusion. Some can cause drops in blood pressure, also increasing your risk of falling. Talk with your doctor about tapering off these drugs if you can. If you take over the counter allergy medications or antihistamines, they may have some of the same ingredients as your sleeping aids, so taking more than the one medication can make you drowsy and confused.
Dr. Sarah Berry of Harvard Medical School suggests you bring all your medications with you the next time you visit your doctor. Seeing them all together will alert her or him that you may need to lower a dose or even eliminate a drug that duplicates another. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about each drug and if it is still necessary.
As you begin spring cleaning, get rid of fashions that no longer work for you and then approach your medicine cabinet with the same attitude. You probably stopped wearing stilettos or high tops sneakers a while ago so maybe it is time to give up some drugs. Chances are you may find your mental acuity is enhanced—and that is always in fashion.