Are We an Over-drugged Society, Part II

When my ninety-seven year old mother was visiting at Christmas and she missed her supper-time meds because we were out one evening, I was concerned about her taking them when we got home, and then taking her bedtime ones shortly after. She, of course, had no such concerns, “They’re only a vitamin,” she said.

After she’d gone to bed I took to Google to see what I could find out about these “vitamins” that she was on. Because she lives in a Retirement Home rather than a Long-term Care Facility, her family isn’t informed of any additions or changes to her medications. My brother had asked her doctor recently if any of her meds could be the cause of her very recent and quick onset of dementia. He was assured that it was simply old age and the drugs had nothing to do with it.

We knew that she was on a mild anti-depressant (“nerve pill” as she calls it) as she has suffered from bouts of severe depression for most of her life. But, I was appalled to learn through my research that she was not only on two anti-depressants, but also an anti-psychotic medication, called risperidone.

When we took her home after the holidays, I asked the nurse at the Retirement Home, why Mom was on an anti-psychotic. Her response was “It was prescribed when she was getting really anxious.” She agreed that it might not be necessary and she’d ask the doctor about prescribing something else to be given only when needed rather than every day.

It was an item on the Global News program 16 x 9, a couple of weeks later, that caught my attention this time. More precisely, the words “Risperidone”, “Anti-psychotic” and “Nursing Homes.”

It seems that recently there has been an uproar in BC over the routine use of anti-psychotic drugs to “calm” the residents, some to the point of making them zombie-like, despite Health Canada warnings that these drugs should NOT be given to patients with dementia. It wasn’t until the children of some of these people began to ask questions and insist that they be taken off these meds, that an investigation began and new methods of calming the distressed, such as physical and mental stimulation, were introduced with great success. Changes are being introduced throughout the province of BC, but the practice of using the drugs is still prevalent in other provinces of this great country.

I understand that at ninety-seven Mom doesn’t have a long life expectancy, but she still deserves to live her last days with dignity. If her medications are causing her to no longer care about the things that were important to her, such as her personal grooming, then it’s time to take a stand.

The lesson here is that we Baby Boomers need to insist on being informed about our elderly parents’ health care and medications, just the way we did when our children were young.

Who would have thought that the day would come when parents would live long enough to become the children?

To get the whole story go to: Global News, Nursing homes routinely administer anti-psychotics


Are We an Over-drugged Society?

During the last few months a couple of news stories have caused me some major concern. I’ve always been one to avoid pharmaceuticals whenever at all possible, and every time that I’ve caved into a doctor’s insistence, I’ve regretted it and I haven’t been long getting off the prescription.

I’ll talk about the first one today.

I’m not sure that I was even yet fifty when my GP sent me for a bone mineral density test, the only reasons being that I was approaching “that age”, early menopausal and small boned. I’d never broken a bone in my life. I was very skeptical, and was even more so when the results came back that I had osteopenia! (osteopenia is a condition in which bone mass is lower than “normal”, but not low enough to qualify as osteoporosis) When I asked my doctor how that could be, since I’d spent the last twenty-five years of my life doing all the things recommended to avoid such a thing, her response was, “Well if you hadn’t done those things I guess it would have been worse!” I agreed to take calcium and Vitamin D supplements, and started a daily walking routine. I refused to take the pushed “hormone replacement therapy” and was happy when it was temporary taken off the market. However five years later,  the Nurse Practitioner  at my new doctor’s office told me the results of my latest bone density test (I’d been having them yearly since the first one) had not improved since I was moved into the osteoporosis category after my second test several years earlier. I gave in to taking the newest “natural” supplement and my bone density increased to the osteopenia category. I still felt something wasn’t right, but I was without evidence to protest. Then, a couple of months ago, while sitting in a waiting room, I came across an article in Vogue Magazine that made me sit up and take notice.

The story, written by Patricia Morrisroe, initially sounded like my story. She too had been urged to have a bone mineral density test when she reached age fifty, and had been diagnosed with osteopenia.  She too accepted, reluctantly, a prescription for a bone building medication.  She later stopped taking the drug due to resulting other health issues.  Her subsequent research gave me reason to give up on my weekly dose of such a drug.  After reading the article, even my partner, normally a firm believer in following any doctor’s suggestions without much question,  had no arguments for me.

I’ll leave it to you to go to the link where I found it and read the full article.  Here are  the five main points that determined my decision:

1.  Osteopenia is no longer viewed as a problem that automatically warrants medication, except in rare cases. People with osteopenic bones have such a low fracture rate that it doesn’t make sense to put them on a drug to prevent something that may not happen for several decades, if at all.(1)

The definition of Osteoporosis has evolved over the years and was once diagnosed only after someone had sustained a fragility fracture. In 1994, after the World Health Organization convened a meeting of experts, osteoporosis was defined by bone mineral density, the one measure of bone health available.  ‘Normal’ bones were those of a 30-year-old woman(2), and anyone who deviated 2.5 or more below that standard had osteoporosis, anyone in between had osteopenia.

2.  Doctors are now questioning the  long-term safety of the current drugs, and how often a woman should take the test, and if it is even valuable.

3. New data from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel that develops recommendations for disease prevention, indicated no solid evidence that testing a patient’s bone density helped her avoid fracture…density is only one part of the picture; bone quality is determined by othe components, such as the micro-architecture of the bone and its capacity for self-repair.(3)

4. As a small-boned person you may have lower readings on the machines, but you may have perfectly good bone, just less of it.

5. While most doctors believe in treating osteoporosis with medication, giving them without accurate diagnosis (i.e. legitimate risk factors) can be dangerous. The drugs can  have significant side effects, most commonly gastrointestinal problemsThe U.S.  FDA recently ordered the makers of the most commonly prescribe osteoporosis drugs, to carry a warning label, following reports of atypical thigh fractures. The accumulation  of these drugs being deposited in the bones for years, could ultimately lead to bones that are more brittle. There appears to be no such warning in Canada yet.

6. Not enough is known about the effects of these drugs, because there have been no long-term studies done.

Pretty scary stuff! I think I’ll go for a walk in the sun. I need a break before telling you about my other discovery.

(1) (2) (3)Morrisroe, Patricia. “Breaking Point.(osteopenia and osteoporosis).” Vogue. 2011. Retrieved January 28, 2012 from accessmylibrary:

Getting Back in the Saddle

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t posted a blog in nearly a year! Our RV Adventure was put on hold, a hold that was supposed to last only over the winter when family obligations require our presence. However, a decision to give up being landlords and purchase a single family home created an unplanned extension on the travel hiatus. That was a different kind of adventure for sure. By the time it was complete, winter was nearly upon us once more.  We managed only one long-weekend trip to The Bikers Reunion in New Liskeard before putting the bikes and RV away. We had some renovations done to the RV in the fall and we are now anxiously planning to take off again in the spring, possibly a trip to Bike Week in Myrtle Beach in May for a start.

In the meantime I’ve finally completed the book that I’ve been working on for the past three years — a history of Jim’s family, and I’ve done a lot of “mind travelling.”  My writing muse has returned and I will be posting again soon!