Part one of three
Because of the tremendous growth of the pharmaceutical industry over the last century, there has been a parallel increase of use of over-the-counter as well as prescription drugs. One of the population groups which is, for various reasons, targeted by the industry, are our elderly. And within that specific group, older women are targeted.
In fact, more than 35 per cent of older women are taking five or more different prescription drugs and over the counter drugs at one given time.
From the mid ’70s to the mid ’80s I was directing a number of addiction programs in Ontario and one was called “REACH” (Reach Elderly Addicts Community Health). One of the main activities of this project was to have teams of addiction counsellors, nurses, volunteer pharmacists visit homes of the elderly, to assess what was in their medicine cabinets, and to come up with a plan of reducing intake of drugs which were not necessary (of course with the input of family physicians). Although the program was very successful, it also reinforced the findings above.
There are many underlying reasons for the increase of drug use among older women. According to Drug Wise, a book for older women about safe drug use, our society has mistaken ideas about getting older. Many people think that getting older makes you forgetful and confused. This is not true! Younger people can also feel forgetful and confused. Age by itself does not cause these problems.
Moreover, research findings indicate that older women’s problems are often not taken seriously and there is a tendency for older women to believe that their doctors are “always” right.
Why do older women need to be better educated about their alcohol and drug use (all drugs including illicit drugs, over the counter drugs and, yes indeed, prescription drugs)? There are many reasons. Alcohol and drugs have a greater effect on older women. Older women are given the most prescriptions for drugs. Also, older women often take several different kinds of drugs.
Older women are and always have been important members of our society. Over a lifetime, they usually have managed stressful and difficult times. Now, as they are older, they deserve an easier time and their life can be easier if they use drugs and alcohol safely.
In order for drugs to be used safely, they must be prescribed correctly by her doctor. Drug prescriptions must be filled correctly by her pharmacist, and they must be taken correctly by the patient. Therefore, in order to use medications safely, an older woman needs accurate information that is clear and easy to understand; clear communication between herself, her doctor, and her pharmacist; and good cooperation between herself, her doctor, and her pharmacist. “Good” family practitioners, within the diagnostic interview, and “good” pharmacists, when filling the prescriptions, should become aware of any illicit or over-the-counter drugs taken by the patient (older woman).
Four common reasons older women use drugs are for sleep, pain, constipation, and stress or depression. The following are some practical tips to solve these problems without drugs, including over-the-counter drugs:
• Only use drugs when you really need them. Good food and exercise are more helpful for some problems. For example, exercise often helps poor sleep. Or, a headache might go away with a rest or a simple healthy snack.
• Don’t automatically ask your doctor for a prescription. Doctors often prescribe drugs only because you ask them to. Instead, ask your family doctor, or even clinic doctors who not familiar at all with your personal circumstances, for other suggestions and he or she would be glad to discuss such suggestions with you.
Other ideas might not work as quickly and easily as drugs do. But if you give them a chance, these ideas will work. And they won’t have the harmful side-effects some drugs have.
And remember, you have the right, if necessary, to change counsellors, doctors or pharmacists. And yes, even the latter could become a good friend and adviser to you in your old age. If you have difficulty relating to important professionals in your life, try to find someone who understands the lives of women. Try not to get discouraged.
You also have the right to ask for help. Speak to someone who understands alcohol and drug problems. If you want more information on specific ways to feel better without alcohol or drugs, call Addiction Services at 306-765-6550.
Next week, we will discuss older people’s practical relationships with health care professionals, and how to use over the counter and prescription drugs safely. I would like to recognize AWARE (Action on Women’s Addictions in Research and Education) in Kingston, Ontario for giving permission to use their valuable materials for this series of three articles.
John Fryters is a 65-year-old senior who enjoys helping his peers by providing useful information. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.