Senior citizens support the drug industry but get scant attention

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

August 24, 1993|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,Contributing Writers King Features Syndicate

With the experience and wisdom they've accumulated, our senior citizens should be considered a national treasure.

Instead, when they step into the drugstore they often get the short end of the stick.

Although older people take the most medicine and support the pharmaceutical industry with their hard-earned dollars, their 0` needs are often ignored.

There's a stereotype that the older customer is difficult: hard of hearing, slow-moving and likely to complain about side effects. In reality, he probably doesn't object nearly as much as he should. If more patients let their physicians and pharmacists know about problems, fewer older people would end up in emergency rooms suffering adverse drug reactions.

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Eleanor takes blood pressure pills. They often make her feel dizzy, drowsy and forgetful. She has no energy and feels down in the dumps for no apparent reason.

But Eleanor is reluctant to fuss about these symptoms and figures they're just a part of growing older.

Last year Eleanor fell, wrenching her shoulder and breaking her nose. It was painful but not life-threatening.

Had she broken her hip she might not be alive today.

Her troubles may be linked to her medicines, but no one has bothered to check.

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Lou's not the complaining type. If you ask him point-blank, he'll tell you that his knees are acting up and his shoulder is sore. But he'd rather talk about more interesting things, like the senior center fund-raiser, his garden or his beloved grandchildren. When Lou suddenly ended up in the hospital, almost dead from loss of blood, it came as a nasty shock to the dozens of friends he'd normally see in a week.

A few folks knew that Lou had had a small blood clot in his lung and was taking Coumadin (warfarin) to prevent a recurrence. When the doctor prescribed this blood-thinner he warned Lou to stay away from aspirin, as the combination could lead to dangerous bleeding. So Lou switched from aspirin to house-brand ibuprofen to ease arthritis aches and pains.

No one warned him that mixing this over-the-counter pain reliever with Coumadin could increase his risk of a bleeding ulcer.

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Harry and Ruth have been married for 46 years. They are in good health, active and love each other very much. But their sex life has suffered since Harry started taking glaucoma medicine and a diuretic. Harry is a very private person and feels shy about asking the doctor if the medicine could be responsible for his difficulties.

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We have put together a brochure describing some of the special hazards older people face in the drugstore. We discuss issues of forgetfulness, depression, dizziness, impaired sexuality and stomach upset or ulcers due to common medications. Anyone who would like a copy of Drugs and Older People, please send $1 with a long (No. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. O-23, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Headlines about the drug problem in America always refer to young people abusing illicit drugs. Cocaine, heroin and crack exact a terrible toll, but experts estimate that more elderly people die each year from prescribed arthritis drugs.

Older people need to start complaining more.

They are paying a high enough price for their medicine. They shouldn't have to suffer from a cure that is worse than the disease.

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My husband and I have three children and don't want any more. Still, I'm not ready to have my tubes tied. When the baby was a few months old my doctor prescribed birth control pills, but they gave me awful headaches. My husband says he doesn't mind using condoms, but I have heard so many stories about how they break, it makes me nervous to count on them. Am I being foolish?

There is no such thing as a 100 percent effective contraceptive. Even birth control pills fail occasionally. Experts writing in "Family Planning Perspectives" in 1992 estimated that during the first year of use, the failure rate for oral contraceptives is 8 percent, that of condoms 15 percent and that of periodic abstinence 26 percent.

That doesn't sound good, but conscientious use makes a big difference. Couples that are consistent in their use of contraception do much better, with a failure rate near zero for oral contraceptives and only 2 percent or less for condoms. Used consistently and correctly, latex condoms are highly effective against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

I know a hiccup remedy much easier than the one you wrote about involving lemon wedges, sugar and Angostura Bitters. The hiccuper simply has someone plug his ears (pushing on the little flaps next to the cheeks is an effective and genteel method) while he drinks a few swallows of liquid. I've even done this technique alone, drinking from a water fountain. It works every time.

Thanks. We love collecting simple home remedies for common problems. If you don't have a water fountain handy, you can try drinking out of a straw.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist; Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert. Their newest book is "The Aspirin Handbook" (Bantam Books).

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