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June Is National Safety Month

The National Safety Council has designated June as National Safety Month.  Seniors, and people whose health is impaired or fragile, should take even more care than others.  Addressing the issues that are in your control can enable you to remain healthy and active as long as possible.

The numerous articles I found regarding safety for seniors discuss risk factors, and what can be done to eliminate or reduce them.  Four areas of concern are listed on the website of the “Healthfinder” sub-department of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP – the Government loves long and cumbersome department names):

  • Medication safety and prescription painkiller abuse
  • Driving, biking, and working safely
  • First aid and emergency preparedness
  • Preventing slips, trips, and falls

During this month I’ll look briefly at each one as it pertains to seniors.  I’ll talk about the first risk factor here, and discuss the others in blog posts during the rest of the month.

Medication safety and prescription painkiller abuse

As you age, you are likely to take more medications over time.  Beta blockers for your heart, statins for your cholesterol, baby aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke, and medications that (we hope) may slow the advancement of dementia, just to name a few.  Some need to be taken once a day, some more, some with food, some on an empty stomach.  It gets very complicated.

Unless you are extremely organized, if you are taking a lot of medications, you may want to reach out for help.  Personally, I can’t remember to take a vitamin each day as it is – I’m going to need lots of help when I get older.  Pill packs, children, or a nurse if you are in an Assisted Living situation, can help keep you on track.  If you are a bit more tech-savvy, and have a smartphone (that’s a phone that can remind you of things, for example), you’re in luck.  Fortunately, and not surprisingly… there’s an app (smartphone program) for medications!  Actually, a myriad of apps.

In addition, as you age, your body processes medications differently.  According to the Merck Manual, changes in your body can cause you to end up with higher concentrations of medications than when you were younger, and your organs are less efficient at processing medications as well.

Pain meds are tough, because if you have chronic severe pain, undergo surgery, or are fighting cancer, for example, prescription pain medications can be essential.  Unfortunately, they also cause addiction and are subject to abuse.  A material percentage of seniors abuse prescription medications, according to studies done within the past few years.  Unfortunately, if you have severe and chronic pain, or chronic anxiety, you may have no choice.

The government is pushing to develop new pain medications that are less addictive than the opioids currently on the market.  They hope to have some options available within the next three years.

You may, however, ask yourself:  if you are in your mid-80’s or older and have severe chronic pain, is it so bad if morphine becomes part of your life?  That is actually the case for my 87-year-old mother-in-law, who has severe back issues.  After dealing with agonizing pain for years, she finally started on a weekly morphine patch.  We have seen a tremendous improvement in her quality of life.  The one time she tried to go without it – as an experiment – was a disaster.  The patch manages most of her pain, and you would never know she is taking a narcotic – she is still sharp as a tack.  So these medications can be a real blessing, even though they come with dependency issues.

The bottom line: taking your medications correctly, with regular dosage monitoring, can have a huge beneficial impact on maintaining your good health, but remember that your body’s changes over time are likely to change the way medicines will affect you.

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