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The only cocktails you should enjoy in retirement are served on a beach

Are you familiar with the term “polypharmacy?”

You likely are, even if you don’t know it. It’s a common issue among seniors. A drug prescription related to blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. when you were 40 years old, then, next thing you know, you are 70 years old and it has snowballed into a cocktail of five, even 10 or more types of pills a day.

If this doesn’t describe you, odds are it does someone else in your close family.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), it’s a growing issue throughout the industrialized world. A 2012 study by the CIHI found that nearly two-thirds (65.9 per cent) of seniors had claims for five or more types of drug, and more than one-quarter (27.2 per cent) of seniors had claims for 10 or more.

A cocktail of pills doesn’t equal good health

This despite the fact that another CIHI study found that more than three in four seniors (77%) in Canada described their health status as “excellent,” “very good” or “good.”

What does all this mean? We live in a society where we too often consider our health “good” so long as the right cocktail of pills is making us feel that way. When in fact, your health is obviously poor if you need multiple prescription drugs to see you through the day.

The older people get and the more drugs they take, the greater the health risks. That 2012 CIHI study also found that more than one-third (38.9%) of seniors on public drug programs used a drug from the Beers list (this is a list of drugs defined as potentially inappropriate for use by seniors) and 12.4% had claims for multiple drugs from the Beers list.

Lastly, the CIHI found that seniors with at least one chronic condition who reported regularly taking at least five prescription drugs were twice as likely to experience a side effect requiring health care than similar seniors taking only one or two prescription drugs.

The need to ‘deprescribe’

Even drugs for seemingly minor complaints can pose health risks with persistent use. A CBC story last month explored how “millions of Canadians are taking a prescription drug for heartburn long term but many of them don’t need it, exposing them to a growing list of side-effects.”

The drugs in question are “proton pump inhibitors (PPIs),” which include omeprazole (Losec), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and the over-the-counter medication Olex.

The CBC story made it clear that many Canadians have badgered their doctors for a prescription without attempting lifestyle changes that could address their heartburn.

The Ottawa Citizen ran a great piece last month about the Canadian Deprescribing Network, a new national group of health professionals, researchers, and patients formed to help seniors reduce the number of prescription drugs they’re taking.

Part of the answer is eliminating redundancy and overlap between medications, and discontinuing use of drugs that haven’t been proven to be effective for people over a certain age. (Drug trials, for example, seldom include people over 85).

An ounce of prevention is worth …

But the most important step is education – people need to understand the importance of preventative healthcare, to avoid developing chronic conditions in the first place that are related to lifestyle choices and are wholly avoidable.

There are of course many instances where taking a prescription medication is entirely necessary and recommended. But always remember that a symptom is a warning sign – it’s your body’s alarm system alerting you to a problem. Be wary of reaching for pills that treat the symptom, but not the underlying problem.

So many of the ailments people resign themselves to as they age – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, poor posture, lost mobility, aches and pains – can be prevented and treated with safer and less invasive options than a daily cocktail of pharmaceuticals.

Treat your body better

Don’t go for the easy option. It’s tempting to just reach for a pill, especially if the cost is covered under a drug plan. But ignoring the underlying cause of your complaint will only trap you in a vicious cycle of greater medication use and increasingly poor quality of life.

Choose the best option for your health, not the cheapest one. Chiropractic is covered under many healthcare plans. And we can also help you connect with nutrition and fitness experts in the Kanata area, to get you in shape and eating well.

Our health is our greatest asset. Our decisions on a daily basis should reflect that.

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