Going Grey and Going Fast: Ensuring a Long Healthy Life in an Overmedicated Society
She is moving out. Fast.
She’s tied her shoes, and she’s off to the races.
Slim, grey, pretty. Walking at speed in her sneaks. Clearly brimming with health and vitality. Waves at folks along the way. Damn, girl.
Wouldn’t all of us grey gals want to look like that- the body of a woman much younger. All that energy.
Then she walks into Walgreens.
This of course is a Walgreens’ commercial.
It’s about where you and I can get our drugs. Our fixes. The toxic crap that ruins our minds, our bodies, our health.
Here’s my problem with this:
Women like this Duracell Battery Bunny Girl don’t tend to take lots of drugs.
If anything, they eschew them. I certainly do, as much as humanly possible.
Yesterday morning I was out doing stairs at our gorgeous outdoor amphitheater, Red Rocks. I am within two days of leaving for Africa where I plan to summit Mt. Kenya, which is 17,058'. Since early July when I made the commitment, I’ve hiked and run some 78,000 stairs at 6200' here close to Denver. Run untold miles. Hit the gym for untold hours.
In many ways I AM that older chick. I have that energy, born of hours of exercise. Lots of greens and good air. I will be 66 in mid-January. On my birthday I am heading out for a month in Indonesia to sail the spice islands.
However when I wander into my local Walgreens, I am there to pick up mouthwash. Bandaids. Or bags of Blue Almonds on sale. (Walgreens runs a half price special on those suckers and I load up for bear).
For far too many of my fellow females (and males, let’s be fair) over sixty, life is a litany of pills.
What you and I might otherwise consider “safe” drugs, over-the-counter meds for your everyday ailments such as constipation and the like, those innocent meds can not only cause serious health problems but can also be addictive https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/over-the-counter-drugs/.
You and I can waltz into Walgreens and purchase an enormous bottle of Tylenol. Safe, right? Wrong. For lots of reasons. Not only can too much cause liver damage, but many prescriptions also contain Tylenol, which increases our doses to well beyond the daily limit. This is just one of hundreds of examples.
This is how we die. Or, worse, deteriorate badly, for which our docs give us even more toxic meds. Dear god.
Many familiar, common OTC drugs can cause anything from allergic reactions to death, especially when mixed with our prescriptions or used not according to instructions. Lots of elderly folks find themselves feeling dizzy and faint, for which their doctors prescribe yet more drugs. This cyclical knee-jerk reaction is part of a massive problem called polypharmacy, or the over-prescribing of drugs to our seniors.
Look, this happens to those of us who aren’t seniors, to be clear, but I’m just addressing the geriatric piece of the puzzle here.
What can easily happen is that we take OTC drugs, assuming they’re safe to take in bulk (they aren’t). Sometimes what we eat, or that we eat anything at all, can cause dangerous side effects. We take those complaints to our doctors, who all too often don’t do the sleuthing work to discover if we’re abusing our OTC meds. Then we end up with yet more dangerous drugs in our systems, and there begins an evil cycle.
It hardly stops here. Far too many folks in their sixties are spending way too much time in their local drug stories, filling up to fifteen or more scripts a year. On top of this they load up on OTCs, just as the Walgreens ad shows our healthy grey gal doing, and off she goes, with a bag full of toxic goodies like Halloween candy. Candy for corporate profits.
There’s a great deal wrong with that picture. The more drugs we take, the sicker we get. The more they mix, the more chance we end up in the ER with a serious problem.
I am a Floridian, born and raised. When I go back home to visit my cousin in Naples, it invariably strikes me that on nearly every single block, there are two drug stores sitting opposite each other: a CVS Pharmacy and a Walgreen’s. They are everywhere. This is old folks’ country down here, as it is in Arizona, south Texas and other warm spots. It’s also where the drug stores set up shop to make it very easy for all of us oldsters to stock up on shit that can kill us.
The geriatric polypharmacy issue is simply massive, according to a PBS News Hour article https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/polypharmacy-americas-drug-problem. And it’s growing fast. The slick ads that show smiling seniors lifting their grandkids and playing football with ease are immensely appealing. They’re also lies.
Those of us who are well into our sixties and beyond, those of us who are out at Red Rocks or running or swimming or hiking or cycling, are not big consumers of drugs. If anything we’ve dumped our supply, cleaned out our cabinets (if for no other reason than to keep the grandkids safe) and we get most of our medicines from food, fresh air and friendships.
My elderly mother, who was living in an assisted care facility for some years, had her own share of challenges with drugs. In her late eighties, she had developed macular degeneration, which eventually caused to lose most of her eyesight. Her geriatric doctors loaded her with meds. As a result, this very smart, capable woman was reduced to dumping all her pills out onto the kitchen table (in part because she couldn’t manage the kid-proof tops) and doing her level best not only to see the pills and their colors and shapes, but also to avoid overdosing.
She had plenty of problems with that. One night I got a frantic call from the facility informing me that my mother had written a note that she left in the doorway of her apartment: Please help me I’m dying, it said. She was found wandering in the snow nearby. Shortly after that she was moved to the full care facility, where she spent the last of her long life in a small room. Tethered to an oxygen tank, taking endless pills, and sleeping most of the time.
She was reduced to near-infancy due to her drugs.
Back then I didn’t know what I know now. If I had, I’d have intervened, with real force, with her health care.
When elderly folks are placed in institutions as my mother was, they are subject to even more drug overdoses and interactions. Doctors prescribe willy-nilly, often without bothering to consult other caregivers to ensure continuity of care. If nothing else, to make sure that our elderly parents aren’t suffering from drug overdoses that are causing the very symptoms that someone else is prescribing even more drugs to treat. They get dizzy, fall, injure themselves.
I would posit that the vast majority of what this society considers normal issues for the elderly are caused by meds more than anything else. It’s widespread, abusive, and an epidemic. I am around far too many uber-healthy so-called elderly who are living at the other end of that spectrum. Look into our medicine chests and our refrigerators and pantries. The difference is stark.
By replacing many of our meds with lots of greens, salads, fruits, we give our body healthy natural medicines. By changing our habits from drug-induced stupor, drooling onto our bibs while watching endless reruns (and all those cheerful drug ads) on television, we regain our lives, our personalities and our vitality.
While I rather enjoy seeing an active older woman portrayed on television, I resent the implication- as I see in all ads pushing pills on us- that you and I can have vibrant lives while dosing ourselves. No, folks, we can’t.
I beg to differ. While it’s true- and I recently had to concede that I had developed Type II diabetes as a hand-me-down from paternal relatives-that we end up having to use a medicine here and there to moderate symptoms. That’s a far cry from the plenitude of pills that threaten to both undermine our health as well as to cause life-threatening events or even death. I take one low-dose prescription daily. ONE. On top of that I’ve researched the side effects and I know what to do to counter them.
Being elderly does NOT mean being sick. Being older does NOT mean we need to be taking a battery of pills every single day.
Being older DOES mean that in a world that increasingly plies pills to those of us over sixty simply because we’re over sixty we need to be vastly better informed, engaged, educated and protective about our healthcare.
Just because we can purchase an OTC medicine does not mean that it’s safe. Likely, it’s not, especially if we don’t take them as designed, mix them with the wrong foods (which is potent medicine, thank you) and combine them with prescriptions. Familiar and available does not translate into “take all you want.”
If you and I want to be that swiftly-moving grey gal, she of the smiles, the slim body and all that lovely energy, I’d posit that we’d be far better off skipping the visit to Walgreens and heading for the green grocer instead.
This is your life. Your body. You and I get one of each. As we age, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t be those healthy folks on the television ads. The only caveat is that we aren’t going to get that life by pounding down the pills. What we can do is take our health in hand, challenge any prescription, do the research and protect ourselves and our quality of life.
It’s all downhill after (forty, fifty, sixty?) For me, it’s uphill. When and if I make it to the summit of Mt. Kenya, and I have every intent on doing so, it sure as hell won’t be due to a plethora of pills from my friendly neighborhood Walgreens. The only thing from them on this upcoming trip is a bag of Blue Diamond almonds.
For superb information on how to eat your way into your hundreds, I strongly recommend the NatGeo special edition Blue Zones, The Science of Living Longer.( https://www.amazon.com/National-Geographic-Science-Living-Longer/dp/B01LXCZKAI)In it you will find tons of advice from those folks who have figured out how to live long, vibrant, healthy lives using food as medicine, exercise as joy, and friendships as their social constructs.
The answers have always been all around us. We just need to ask better questions. Not of our doctors, but of ourselves.
See you on the mountain.