Too Many Pills For Seniors: Are You Taking a Handful of Pills Each Morning?

Patricia Leva, MA, BS, RN


We nurses often are amazed at the number of medications we must give each day to our patients in the hospital. “Would you believe she takes 18 in the morning, 6 with lunch, and another 8 at bedtime?


A nurse may spend several hours giving medications depending on the number of patients assigned to their care. Worse still, if patients are acutely ill, this task may continued endlessly throughout the day lessening the time for bedside caregiving. If you have been a recent patient in the hospital, you know this to be true.


Growing Dependence on Medications


Many of my patients have questioned why it takes three or four anti-hypertensive pills to bring blood pressure down and stabilize it. One of the reasons is that each medication is made of a chemicals designed to have various impacts on specific body parts. Blood pressure lowering is a complicated business. Today’s pharmaceutical research and development labs have refined the development of chemicals in medications to attain very specific results. In sharp contrast do you remember in the 60s when Penicillin was given for almost all infections? And giving 15 or more medications each day was not done unless it was in the Intensive Care Unit or the Emergency Room. As time goes on, the average senior is taking more and more chemicals. Let’s reconsider the downsides of the growing dependent, like water for flowers, on chemicals to feel better. I’m sure you’ve seen today’s drug commercial on TV. A typical one demonstrates little cartoon characters brushing out the insides of a blood vessel to merrily rooter out built up plaque while a deep while a soft voiced narrator tells of the many side effects this medication might cause. It seems there are more side effects listed than beneficial effects! Any medication can cause a side effect. These are listed in the drug literature in order of importance with the highest printed in bold italics.


Side Effect: An Allergy or Reaction?


Whether in a hospital or doctor’s office one of the first questions asked is, “Do you have any allergies?” Because today’s medications sometimes are not compatible with all individuals; people are having reactions to medications. Most drug companies are not in business to customize a chemical specifically for a person, as the Chinese attempt to do; there are bound to be reactions. A reaction such as nausea and vomiting, headache, diarrhea or intense feeling of inner cold is not an allergy but a reaction to a medication. A true allergic response involves anaphylactic symptoms such as breathing problems and hives/rash.


We nurses are now asking our patients, “Describe any reactions have you had to medications?” This rephrasing helps to determine whether a reaction or a true allergy to a certain medication has taken place. Medications, while producing a beneficial effect also can create a detrimental side effect. For example, some antibiotics eventually strip (kill off) helpful bacteria in the intestine thus setting the scene for diarrhea because other scavenger bacteria took over.


If you have the foresight and patience, you can make the best of your strengths while building up your resilience to stressors of today’s lifestyles. Crafting your body and spirit into being strong and healthy can be achieved by taking some important preventive approaches.


Identify and use what you do well as your main wellness strategy.


If you know and apply your strongest quality (such as honesty, laughter, creativity) each day of your life, this will cause a very positive chemical reaction in your brain. These neurotransmitters keep the Central Nervous System (CNS) healthy and balanced. Too much problem-solving squeezes the life out of important nerve centers and is one of the causes of anxiety, nervousness, and depression.


Know your body and its limits


The body is fragile, more tender than a baby when under stress. Decide “what is enough” whether this applies to alcohol, sugar or caffeine, nicotine or other risky foods, recreational outlets, or lifestyle changes. As Dr. Phil says, “If it isn’t working for you, then change!”


Lessen the use of processed chemicals


Eating fresh, alive, local foods — these are the best chemicals for nourishing your body. Read labels on cosmetics, colognes, toothpaste and other products that directly touch the skin or membrane of your body for these go into your body faster and more efficiently than the food you eat.


Expand your nutritional knowledge and eating habits


Make it habit to eat colorful vegetables and fruits for their antioxidant qualities. Get on your stomach’s schedule, not your Mom’s schedule, by eating only when you are hungry. Purposefully use smaller plates and bowls so that meal portions the size of your palm fit easily onto the dish. Challenge yourself to use fresh spices and salad dressing sprays on potato, salads, and freshly sliced fruits.


Exercise to keep your organs functioning well


“Use it or loose it is” should be a law of the land for teenager to older adults. Exercise literally massages the internal organs, makes their enzymes flow better, gets the metabolism furnace going stronger, and forces the lymph glands to lubricate the system and push out the waste products more effectively.


Meditate to rebalance and regenerate


Whether praying, contemplating, daydreaming, or deeply meditating, this forces the CNS to reset itself to a balanced state. When pushing oneself to do the work of three people by using caffeine, sugar and other stimulants, the average person abuses the sympathetic side of the CNS. When sleep deprived, the sympathetic system gets depleted. Meditation turns on the other half of the CNS, the parasympathetic system. This comforts, soothes, and relaxes all the systems and organs of the body so that all can work well together. In turn, the immune system becomes more effective, the heart beat more evenly, and the mind work in a focused, attentive manner. If you want to improve your memory, meditate 20 minutes a day!


Become knowledgeable about your medications


It is becoming more important to invest a little time learning about your medications, dosage, intended actions and of course, side effects. This proactive approach will serve you well when your physician writes yet another prescription for you. After all, you are THE healer of your body so study up, my friend, on what’s right for your body, the temple of your spirit.