July 17th, 2024

Common Sense Health: A call to care for parents

By Dr. Gifford-Jones and Diana Gifford-Jones on July 5, 2024.

On the growing list of health pandemics – COVID-19, obesity, diabetes, liver disease, dementia, heart disease, and stroke – there is another one. It’s called benign neglect, and it is a product of our times. It happens when children don’t make sufficient effort to help aging parents understand and manage their medications.

There’s a lot of guilt to go around. But that’s not to say this is easy work.

Ask your parents what medications they take and why. Better yet, have a close look at the medications in their possession and assess how well they are adhering to prescribed treatments.

Congratulations to those who find all is well. For others, it may be a wake-up call.

Over the past several decades, detrimental trends have punished an aging society. Number one, the pharmaceutical industry has ballooned into a juggernaut of profiteering dealmakers with other powerful industries, not least of which are media platforms that depend on advertising dollars. Unsuspecting consumers are too willing to absorb everything they hear about pills to address problems that are often caused by lifestyle, not bad luck. Easier to pop a pill and enjoy life, like on the commercials, than work on the root issues.

Number two, we are living longer – and not always in the best of health. Furthermore, there is a large cohort of the population in North America, the baby boomers, now moving into their senior years. Just watch the costs escalate!

Number three, we have a shortage of healthcare workers. Number four, we take pride in being able to age, independently, without a lot of oversight.

These and other factors mean that a huge number of older people are growing old, living alone, dealing with multiple health problems, and taking all sorts of pills. The great shame is this last point, that many people are making their lives worse, or at risk of doing so, because they are taking too much medication, or the wrong medication, or not adhering to drug protocols.

Take statins as an example. These are complex medications designed to treat high cholesterol. As one website simplifies the explanation, “they work by reducing the amount of cholesterol made by the liver and helping the liver remove cholesterol that is already in the blood.” But statins have potentially serious side and long-term effects that researchers are starting to expose.

Studies show statins increase the risk of developing diabetes. This risk differs between commonly prescribed drugs. Cognitive problems, muscle cramps, and other negative effects result from long-term use.

Even if the medical establishment were to do a better job of weighing the pros and cons of statins versus natural approaches such as high-dose vitamin C, a great many elderly citizens would not benefit. The pandemic of benign neglect is getting in the way.

The so-called silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945, now mostly in their 80s and 90s, need our care. It’s upon younger people to ensure that the quality of the remainder of their lives is not being jeopardized by chronic misuse of powerful drugs.

The boomers are moving into their senior years. Their large numbers can be a force for change in the way we care for the elderly.

What can we do here and now? One of the best things would be to ensure elderly parents are not falling victim to “pillitis”. Find out what they are taking and do your research. Just as there is a lot of misinformation online, there are also trusted sources. If you have questions, take those questions, and your parents, to a doctor’s appointment for a fully informed discussion.

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