In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we don't tend to give our time to thinking about the future. But the other day, a simple breakfast meal led to doing exactly that. I was with an aging cousin, Walter, a former expert salesman and investment advisor who has become infirm in his senior years. I knew he had several doctors and took medicine. It wasn't until breakfast time, however, that I realized how many medicines Walter took – and I was bowled over.
There at his place setting next to his coffee and daily sunny-side up egg, his wife had placed a cup with 13, yes 13, pills. Green ones, white ones, orange ones, round and oblong, big and small. There were pills for his heart and his blood pressure and his urine flow and his mood. There were diuretics, anti-depressants, blood thinners and rhythm regulators.
I got to thinking that Walter is not at all unusual. As our population ages, we have more things that are wrong with us, and the pharmaceutical industry has responded with a drug for this and that. In Walter's case, modern medicines are keeping him alive, although at significant expense. Powerful drugs have to be dosed just right, monitored, and understood by the patient and their entire health care team. It is easy to make a mistake, and that could be costly, even deadly.
My cousin Jean, Walter's wife, is meticulous about seeing that the right pills are dispensed at the right time and that Walter takes them as prescribed, but not everyone has that type of support. And not everyone has pharmacists who are attentive or a varied group of specialists who think cautiously about the interactions with medicines another doctor has prescribed.
In thinking about the coming age of "chronic cancer," I've realized more of us may be taking more than one pill to live well with cancer. As we age we may have other chronic conditions too. We may need to lower our cholesterol, thin our blood and reduce our blood pressure. We may have digestion medicines and something for our mental health. The complexity of therapy at home may grow for many of us.
This will put more responsibility on each of us. I suggest you push some of that responsibility back on your family doctor and their nurse. Tell them clearly that you want them to be your medicine "quarterback." Review your medicines with them, the ones they have prescribed and the ones other doctors have prescribed. Always ask about safety, side effects, dosages and how your care can be simplified.
Medical specialists have more drugs than ever to choose from to treat illness or to counteract the side effects of another medicine, but if we are not careful we can find ourselves taking drug upon drug – at great expense and at some risk. I would urge vigilance, caution and shared responsibility.
Walter is doing pretty well with good doctors, his wife's support and his own understanding of his medicines. I hope his health remains stable for many years, but his morning and afternoon medicine routine is a wakeup call for so many of us and indicates what our own home therapy may be like. It's not to be feared, but it will take diligence and careful assistance from people we trust to keep everything in safe balance.
Wishing you and your family the best of health!
This post originally appeared on Andrew's blog on September 9, 2013.