seems more glitter than gold.
In fact, retirement
— and the “golden years” it promises — can take some
getting used to. That’s how it is for a lot of us, anyway.
After a lifetime
spent knuckling down to the pressures and pace of the workday
world or the demands of a family, retirement “leisure”
time can seem downright slow.
And for those
forced to retire because of age or illness, the first weeks or
months may be tinged with bitterness.
can bring new personal problems, too. And one of the most serious
— and least reported — is the use and misuse of alcohol and
other drugs by older people.
Drugs and alcohol?
If that sounds surprising to you, just consider the following
facts. They’re all taken from a recent federal study:
- People age 60 and over make
up 15 percent of the U.S. population, but take 30 percent of
all prescription drugs and 40 percent of all sleeping pills.
- Older adults account for 30
percent of all hospitalizations and 51 percent of all deaths
due to drug side effects.
Still not convinced?
Then add in the estimate that one third of all older alcoholics
develop their drinking problems late in life, and the full extent
of the problem becomes clear.
we’ve put together this pamphlet.
younger people — who are bombarded with drug information from
an early age — older people are often overlooked when it comes
to information on chemical abuse.
and the understanding it can create, is the key to resolving
..Our Other ‘Drug Problem’
In recent years,
a good deal of interest has focused on the use of drugs by older
adults. What researchers have discovered may surprise you.
they tell us something we already should know: that older adults
are America’s largest group of drug users.
one study, over 600 million prescriptions a year are written
for people over 60, an average of 15 prescriptions per person
In fact, 37
percent of older Americans use five or more prescription drugs
at the same time. Nineteen percent use seven or more. And these
figures don’t include over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, laxatives,
and sleeping aids.
according to experts, is over-medication — and risks to health.
The risks become
even clearer when they’re considered alongside aging-related
changes that affect the way drugs work in the body.
from about age 30 on, our bodies begin a process of change that
fundamentally alters the internal environment in which drugs
and alcohol act and produce their effects.
more body fat, for one thing. As a result, fat-soluble drugs
stay in the body longer, often at higher concentrations than
in younger people. Organs that eliminate drugs also become less
efficient. (See box below for details.)
many drugs hit us harder than they do younger people. Alcohol,
caffeine, penicillin, and Valium (among others) trigger stronger
effects. Anesthetics and hormones don’t hit as hard.
There’s more than one. Here are several worth considering:
- Be aware that every drug carries
risks and benefits, and the risks change as our bodies change.
- Don’t assume that there’s a
pill for every problem and a fast fix for every sleepless night.
- Become an informed, active participant
in your own health care.
no one is better suited to the task of keeping us well than we
are ourselves. Sometimes the best solution to a health or emotional
problem is activity — not a pill.
..The Alcohol Option
Or a drink,
for that matter.
though many of us have used alcohol responsibly for years, we
need to bear in mind that our bodies are different and they’re
going to continue to change.
And one change
you may notice is you don’t tolerate alcohol as well as you once
We also need
to remember that with retirement, we do have extra time on our
hands, time that can blur the distinction between alcohol use
people begin to drink more out of boredom or loneliness, or to
ease the pain of losing a spouse, a family member, or a pet.
Some use alcohol
to dull pain — and to relieve their emotional distress at growing
is that drinking is a poor substitute for companionship and contributes
to, rather than relieves, depression.
It also creates
health problems and makes existing problems worse.
As a central
nervous system depressant, alcohol interacts with other depressant
drugs, intensifying their effects. Overuse can also speed physical
decline of the body.
use of drugs is another source of problems for many older people.
In fact, according
to a recent study, one in five Americans over 60 has had an adverse
reaction to prescription drugs, and many are the product of interactions
between different drugs.
people who would never consciously overuse drugs.
But that doesn’t
make their problems — when they happen — any less real.
way to reduce risk is to avoid mixing drugs — including over-the-counter
cold pills, allergy drugs, and sleeping aids. And it’s usually
a good idea to stay away from alcohol if you’re taking anything.
Also be aware
of the risk of accidental overdose, particularly if you see more
than one doctor for more than one condition.
arise when either your doctor forgets to ask about — or you
forget to mention — other prescribed drugs you may be taking.
The result’s the same in either case.
A good way
to avoid problems is to remember to tell your doctor (or doctors)
about all other drugs you’re using.
the “brown-bag” inventory described in the box below
and let your doctor sort things out.
..New Old Thinking
through the glitter and gold of retirement and weighing the proper
role of drugs and alcohol in our lives, it may be well to consider
the new field of psychoimmunology.
of it? Maybe not under its new name, but you’re probably familiar
with its basics: that our overall state of health and happiness
is largely determined by our thoughts and actions.
to older people no less than younger folks, and maybe more, since
we have more time to redefine our interests and refocus our lives.
important in considering drugs and alcohol because it moves our
focus away from chemicals, back to the place where things really
happen — inside our hearts and minds.
If drugs or
alcohol are a problem for you, do something about it. Talk it
over with a friend or get professional help, if you need it.
If drugs aren’t
a problem, do something anyway. You’ll feel better for it. And
you’ll push potential problems that much further away.
..Sidebar | Managing
Medicines: What you Can Do
If you take
several different medications, you can reduce your risk of a
dangerous interaction by conducting a “brown-bag” inventory.
Simply put all the drugs that you’ve taken in the past month
in a paper bag and review them with your doctor during your next
appointment. This is a particularly good idea if you see more
than one doctor for more than one ailment. Other ways to reduce
- Discuss drug effects and interactions
with your doctor or pharmacist. Find out if a new drug can be
taken with other medications that you may be using. Be sure to
mention any nonprescription drugs you may use regularly, including
- Check all instructions. Make
sure you understand how to take the medication. Does “every
six hours” mean every six hours or every six waking hours?
How long should you continue taking the drug — until it’s gone
or until you feel better?
- Don’t trade or self-prescribe
medicines. Don’t exchange prescription drugs with friends or
family, even if your symptoms seem similar.
- Don’t take old medicines. Some
drugs become ineffective or toxic as they’re exposed to air or