When I was younger I can remember listening to my parents and their friends at dinner. On more than one occasion, the condition of their health or that of their family or friends, would take over the conversation. While they seldom complained, I still considered their discussion beyond boring. I also smugly vowed that I would never become one of those-kind-of-people when I got older. Guess what? Things sure look different from the other side of the timeline now. And after Thom and I have navigated a few health ups and downs during the last couple of years, that particular topic of conversation has gotten far more interesting.
It’s no wonder. According to a survey done by AARP (American Association of Retired People) 75% of us over age 50 take at least one daily prescription medication on a regular basis. Then once you hit 65 and over, AARP claims that over 80% of those surveyed take at least two prescription drugs, with 50% of them taking four or more. Yikes! Obviously that is a lot of people taking a lot of drugs. And while there could be an entirely different discussion about whether we are all being over-medicated, obviously some people are being driven to seek help for a number of issues. And surprise, surprise, I find myself at that doorway.
Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll just mention that I have been dealing with high blood pressure. It spurted up last year about this time, but I managed to put several practices in place and thought I was doing reasonably well—until now. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because high blood pressure runs in my family. Both my father and older sister had an ongoing battle with it. Plus, according to WebMD, two out of three adults over 60 have high blood pressure (BP). But like most of us want to believe—I thought I would be the exception.
To make the problem worse, I’m not a person who blindly follows directions. Once the doctor recommended I go on BP medication, I naturally hit the computer and researched every little fact and side effect I could find about it before taking it. And frankly, some of those side effects bothered me more than the condition. My reading also confirmed I was already doing every recommended thing possible to avoid it—so it is likely time to give medication a try. Still, I resist.
I suppose in some ways it is similar to when I realized that my hearing wasn’t that great anymore. Five years ago I took the step and went in for a hearing test. There it was confirmed I did have hearing loss, but it is probably due to genetics rather than older age. So after researching the importance of hearing well for as long as possible, I bought a pair of hearing aids and have been wearing them ever since. As it turned out, I love wearing them because now I hear so much more, and far better, than before. Everything about that choice was advantageous.
So, why do we hesitate when faced with a change in our bodies or our health? From some of the stuff I’m reading, many of us hesitate because of the rampant ageism alive in us and in our culture. Yep. We don’t want to look old. We don’t want to be thought of as old. Face it—we don’t want to be old. If I resist wear hearing aids or glasses, dye my hair, refuse medications and pretend everything is just “fine,” I just might fool myself and hopefully everyone else into thinking I’ve somehow managed to cheat age—to be that one exception.
In case you’re wondering, I think I’m pretty happy at my age. In fact, I’m actually overjoyed to be turning 65 in a little over two months! Medicare is a big part of that of course. But recently I read that one of the hidden signs of ageism is how we have all been shamed into not accepting and/or talking about the physical things happening to us at this age. When I read that, deep down inside I knew I had been as guilty as anyone.
Of course, let me be clear, I’m not talking about sitting around and moaning and complaining about the little details that happen in our bodies as time goes by. No one likes a complainer or someone who goes into the minute details of their condition. If you need someone to support and sympathize, I get that. But an ongoing litany of organ-recitals is not something that interests most of us—especially for any length of time.
What I am talking about is just the frank and honest discussion of what’s happening and how it may or may not be affecting our life. The article about ageism that I refer to mentioned that as we age our health condition does occupy more of our lives so it is completely natural that we talk about it when something new occurs. After all, when you’re going to college, you talk about your school and your teachers, right? When you go to work you talk about your job and coworkers, right? When you have children, you talk about what’s happening with your kids, right? Why should any of us feel shamed into not talking about something that is extremely relevant for us at any particular age?
Unquestionably, there are some of us who sail through life without any health issues whatsoever. Good for them! However, I also know some people who have done everything “right” they possibly can and still find themselves facing health challenges. Can we be as compassionate with them as with someone who was having trouble at work or issues with their children? Or is it possible that we unconsciously want to blame or shame others for not maintaining our ideal version of health, so we alleviate our own fears that the same condition could happen to us?
There is a big push to say our “age ain’t nuthin but a number.” Well, couldn’t you say that “health and body issues ain’t nuthin but a stage?” What I mean by that is I don’t really care what age I am or what health issue I may or may not be going through at any time of my life. What really matters to me is that I stay open, aware, optimistic, loving, engaged, growing, becoming—and those intentions can happen at any age, regardless of any health condition. And trust me, I know that sometimes that isn’t easy—but it sure beats giving up and giving in—or pretending like something isn’t happening.
It could be that positive aging is learning to flow and adapt with the changes in our bodies, our minds and everything around us. How we manage those changes are part of the choices we face each and every day. Do we medicate or not? Only we can decide when the time is right. Let’s just not forget that we are the authors of our life story. And while we may or may not be able to change the circumstances confronting us, the choice about how we will respond and what happens next lies in our hands. Ultimately, the SMART approach is to never forget that we get to make it up.
Dr Sock says
Good for you Kathy, getting hearing aids when you discovered that you had a hearing loss. It always perplexes me that people are so resistant to wearing hearing aids when they need them (yet readily will wear glasses, an equivalent visual prosthesis). Poor hearing is socially isolating, especially among older people, and social isolation and loneliness are predictors for increased mortality. It also frustrates me that most extended health care programs provide very little funding for hearing aids, and that hearing aids cost way more than they ought to. Both these financial factors limit access to hearing aids for many people. But then again, many people will spend money on an expensive holiday or renovation, but won’t spend the money to buy hearing aids.
Nancy Dobbins says
It would appear that you and I (again?) have been on parallel journeys. I watched my own parents take an increasing cocktail of drugs as they aged. It seemed each drug begat another. I vowed that I would try to avoid that pitfall of aging, if I could. And I did. Until 1 month ago I took no medications, except for a vitamin supplement because of our whole food, plant based diet. B12 is lacking in that.
Anyway, my whole life I have battled stress and anxiety. But a couple of years ago, for the first time it manifested in a way that got my doctor’s attention. My bp would spike in her office. I mean crazy high. why? White coat syndrome. I was doing all this healthy living stuff and wanted it to be supported by clean physicals. Almost a performance anxiety, I think. A second bp reading would be lower, and I began to monitor it at home as well and though I had everything under control with diet, exercise, meditation, etc. But, over the next couple of years my anxiety created a situation that I clearly needed help with, so after trying unsuccessfully to control the bp myself I agreed to a low dose beta blocker. I felt like I had failed in maintaining my own healthy. I was sincerely depressed about it at the time.
But, the med has had an unexpected, beneficial side effect; it has reduced my anxiety as it controls heart rate…so my heart won’t race anymore under stress and create the rollercoaster anxiety.
I’m not happy, per se, that the med is in my life, more or less resigned however. The consequences of NOT addressing the bp are pretty dire…I am still going to tweek my diet, reduce salt further and really focus on not letting that cheese creep in…and maybe I can get off it some day. Diet and lifestyle truly are a cure for many diseases. Saw Dr. Michael Greger speak on Monday and the research is there. Now if more folks would embrace it there would be much less illness. Not that there isn’t such thing as a genetic influence (I know I have one) but our genes are not necessarily our destiny, unless we let them.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nancy! Thank you for sharing your own personal story with me/us! I think it helps to hear how others have addressed it. And isn’t crazy how we can beat ourselves up over tying to stay healthy??? Good for you for figuring out that it was better to reduce your anxiety than to refuse to take the pills. I too am trying a few alternative things while monitoring my BP. I do have a bit of the “white coat syndrome” but I’ve also noticed that most of my higher BP happens happens first thing in the morning. I guess that happens to some people too. The rest of the time it is mostly normal. My doctor wants me to take the BP diuretic pills, but like I mentioned there are a couple of the potential side effects that has me wary. I’m not yet ready to give up hope that there isn’t more I can do on my own to make up the difference. Time will tell…and again, it really is such a personal choice. Thanks again for offering your perspective. ~Kathy
Leslie Susan Clingan says
I live in a community where diabetes is rampant. When I go to the doctor, and I am asked for all of the prescription medicines I take, the nurse is always surprised to learn until recently I only took one. An anti-depressant to help manage my OCD. Several months ago, I was prescribed a second drug for mental illness, an anti-anxiety med. I hope I won’t have to take it forever but life has been crazy for close to a year and I had to have some help.
Drugs for mental illness carry an even more significant stigma. I sometimes think that I am being a wimp or a big baby by needing/taking the meds I have been prescribed. I think that I should just suck it up, and handle things. Cut the crap. But I can’t. If I could I would!!
Same thing for any other health issue for which we are prescribed medicine. There is only so much we can do to control/improve our health ourselves. Sometimes heredity, or situations in our lives mean we will live a better, healthier, more balanced life if we accept the drugs prescribed to help us. I am certainly better for having started my OCD meds. I just wish I had had them sooner.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Leslie! Thank you for sharing your personal experience with medication. I agree that meds for mental illness are even worse that meds for conditions associated with aging. Because it is such a personal decision for each of us, and as you say, “only so much a person can do to control/improve our health ourselves” it is really impossible for any of us to judge another for those choices. As long as we are staying aware and conscious of our own needs and corresponding choices, I think we ought to just share compassion for others and let us all off the hook! And congratulations on finding something that works for you and makes life better. ~Kathy
Bob Lowry says
Interestingly, this is a subject my wife and I have been discussing for months.. She has several health problems but is super-sensitive to virtually every prescription medicine designed for each of them. In fact, if there is a rare side effect it will affect her. She has a list of literally hundreds of various medications that cause more problems than they solve.
After decades of this, she has reached the point of saying, “I’m done with pills.” The stress and health side effects just aren’t worth it to her any longer. Diet, exercise, a strong support system, and trying her best to avoid excess stress will be her medical plan from now on.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Bob! Thanks for sharing another personal example of how the decisions about health are complicated. When my sister was diagnosed with cancer she made several decisions that I definitely did not agree with. But I had to admit it was her choice and her body AND that I really can’t know what I would have done in exactly her situation. But I am a big believer in 2nd opinions and gathering as much information as possible. I’ll admit it would be “easier” to just turn the decision over to someone else and be done with it…but I’m not built that way and it sounds like your wife is the same. Good luck to her and her decision. At least she will be far happier and it should definitely reduce her stress. ~Kathy
Tom @ Sightings says
Two years ago I went to the ENT doctor for a throat issue. He scoped my throat. No problem, he concluded, just an irritation. Then he asked me, by the way, when was the last time you had your hearing checked? Uh, fifth grade, I responded. So he ran me through the tests. He came back and told me, You’re hearing is perfectly normal … for a man your age. So, right or wrong, I took that as meaning I do not need a hearing aid. Now, if only people would speak up!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tom! hahaha…I’d say you are going with the “flow” about your hearing for sure. But the truth is, the people who often “suffer” the most about hearing loss are our loved ones? My Thom was overjoyed when I got hearing aids because he KNEW that often when he was talking I couldn’t hear/understand everything he was saying. And rather than ask him to “repeat himself” I would just nod and/or guess at what he was saying–oh, and the TV volume was getting louder and louder. Now we are both happy! ~Kathy
Kate, perhaps a different style of hearing aid will work for you. My mother was given a behind-the ear style like Kathy’s but was much happier when switched to in-the-ear. About the same time but in a different city, my stepson’s wife was given inconspicuous in-the-ear aids because of her age (early twenties) and athletic life. She is happier with behind-the-ear and at age 37 has no problems running marathons in the rain.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Verle! Yes I actually wear the behind the ear kind of hearing aid you mention. I think those are the most commonly prescribed these days and especially for women who have hair around our ears, no one even knows I wear them. AND best of all, once you wear them for a short time they are so light and comfortable you frequently forget you are even wearing them. Here’s my blog post about that! https://www.smartliving365.com/do-my-hearing-aids-make-me-look-fat/ ~Kathy
Donna Connolly says
hi, Kathy – Thank you for another thought-provoking post. I love your take-away that positive aging is learning to flow and adapt with the changes in our bodies/minds/environment. Your recurring reminder that we are the authors of our own story applies so well here. Sending warm hugs your way.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! Thank you. While I was pondering my dilemma about whether to medicate or not, it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the only one who ponders the issue. Plus, it was another great reminder to me to remember that how we view it and where we go with each and every decision in our lives is what makes up our story. Glad you caught that message! ~Kathy
Janis @ retirementallychallenged says
Hi Kathy! When my father died at age 93, he was taking zero meds (he did have dementia and had broken a hip, but neither condition required ongoing medication). His doctors were always amazed at that. I guess I’m more “normal” in that I take two ongoing prescriptions: one for my thyroid (since having Hodgkins in my late 20s) and a new addition of a statin for (genetic) high cholesterol. I really wish I didn’t have to take anything, but oh well. High BP is nothing to ignore but I can understand your reluctance to consume a drug that has worrisome side effects. I think the drugs for both high cholesterol and high blood pressure are huge money makers for the pharmaceutical companies and it’s not surprising that many of us are sceptical when they are prescribed.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janis! Your dad is one of the health heroes that we all like to point to, for sure. And I’ll admit that I do have a bit of of that skepticism about drug companies in me and that helps (or doesn’t help!) my decision. I think part of my problem is that I need to find a new doctor who is more willing to discuss options. Unfortunately the lack of doctors where I live makes switching primaries a very difficult thing so not really helpful when you need to make a fast decision. When I read the news that so many people are “medication non-adherent” I think it is because of either the cost (which is sometimes very difficult) or they are like me. Not really feeling comfortable with what is prescribed and unsure about options. Unfortunately, until the medical industry in our country is fixed this will only continue to worsen. ~Kathy
Gary F. Lange says
Yes, our bodies and medical information are changing. We want to be healthier and hopefully make choices in the right directions. A multitude of very small neurotransmitters and chemicals can make us feel better or worse but we live in 2020 so lets take advantage of them with balance and current knowledge
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Gary! As YOU and I know, the challenge is in the balance. It’s also a bit deceiving because you can’t necessarily tell what any of us should do because all of our bodies are so very different. I know one woman who battled with cancer for a second time and was on some sort of cancer medicine that made her balloon up and become nearly obese. From the outside we could all say if she just lost some weight she would probably be healthy but her prescription of health caused the weight, not her lifestyle choices. Ultimately I think we all have do keep our eyes on our own health, do whatever we can, and then offer support an encouragement to others no matter what their choices. I don’t think any of us can decide for another until we are walking in their shoes. ~Kathy
Janet Miles says
Great post! I will be turning 65 in March and had been on medicine for Type II diabetes since about age 55 when I finally gave in and accepted the fact that I did indeed have it. I should have known because I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant but was never on medication. The doctor also suggested I go on a blood pressure medication because when I had my blood pressure taken in the office it was generally high the first time, although it would come down some when they took it a second time. I resisted starting that medication because I know that I just get nervous going to a doctor. I have always been overweight. In March last year I started following a Keto lifestyle, have lost 70 pounds and no longer need to take the diabetes medicine. I still have about 25 pounds to lose. My blood pressure was also normal at the last visit. It helps to have a doctor who is willing to listen to you rather than just hand you pills. “We are authors of our own life story” is so true!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janet! Thank you so much for sharing your great story with all of us. And good for you for taking your health in your own hands. I think there are A LOT of things we can do to improve our health if or when necessary so having that hope is really important. I also agree that having a good doctor is very helpful. But when it comes down to it I think we are the ones that must really make the choices about what needs to be done. It sounds like your choice was exactly right for you. Best wishes on your continued improved health! ~Kathy
Patricia Doyle says
Kathy, I’ve always believed “better living through chemistry”, maybe because I had a heart condition diagnosed when I was 5 and needed medication to survive into adulthood. One of the symptoms was high blood pressure, so I’ve been on that medicine since I was 15! Years later (when I was 40), I had the issue fixed (took time for medical procedures to be identified and then perfected), but I still had /have high blood pressure. And now, post-cancer, there are drugs that can help prevent cancer recurrence (and since brain cancer is a high possible for recurrence of my tumor, I’m on it) … so I’m one of those who take a bunch of pills – the drugs and then a couple of things to mitigate the side effects of the oncology drug. To me, none of it is because of age. It’s using the best of medical advances along with the best other habits – like yoga for strength & flexibility to help with mitigation.
It pains me when older people cannot afford their meds or choose to not take them because they “feel better” & not understanding the silent killing some diseases can have – high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer.
I also know that most side effects listed in the literature will not happen to most people. Some might (I still have some in my current oncology drug), but often you can work with your doctors to find a drug that minimizes side effects (I did). In most cases, the benefits do outweigh the side effects!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pat! I’m so glad you are finding the drugs that you need to stay healthy. Isn’t that really the point? And there are so many exciting advances in medicine these days (especially if you can afford it) that we really should use what we can to keep our quality of life as good as possible. I agree that we need to stay aware (and not in denial) about issues when they pop up. Sure there are some things we can definitely improve through diet, exercise and meditation–but other things should not be ignored. And thank you for reminding me that not all side effects listed happen with every person. It’s funny because I can be very optimistic about most things but have a real pessimistic attitude about drug side effects. ~Kathy
Dr. Goggle is not the best way to get information on drugs but it is so tempting. Really asking your practitioner what are the side effects of the drugs they are prescribing and then again ask the pharmacists when you fill the rx, is the way to go. Doctors assume many people are not going to make lifestyle changes so out comes their prescription pad. If you take 6 months and try the lifestyle changes and your numbers go down you know you are on to something. If after 6 months there is no change then IIMHO you need the drug. Many issues are just genetic and no lifestyle changes are going to help as we age. To add a rant, supplements, vitamins are not regulated. Many people substitute them to self medicate. It doesn’t work that way. If you have to take blood pressure meds, various herbs and tinctures are not a substitute.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! I agree Dr. Google isn’t always the best…but he is so damned accessible!!! I think your advice about doing what you can for 6 months and if it isn’t improving then time to make a change. My optimistic nature often pushes me to believe I can overcome just about anything and sometimes I just have to stop and go with the flow. Thanks for your level-headed reminders! ~Kathy
Thank you for your openness in discussing the choices that you face. Although our health and health choices differ, I have also found great comfort in having a partner to talk with about the privilege and challenges of ageing. Thanks for sharing your perspective about the natural and logical progression of life’s focus. Bless you on your journey.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! Oh so very true. If I didn’t have Thom to “talk me down” or “talk me through” I would be at a huge disadvantage. Regardless of whether we are in a partnership or not, we all NEED friends who can walk us through. Thank you for your support. ~Kathy
Nancy L Coiner says
Great post, Kathy! I had exactly the same journey to the standard pill for high blood pressure at almost exactly the same age. I ate well, exercised, didn’t stress out too much, and yet my bp remained high. So…..
It’s mostly YOUNGER people we probably ought not to burden with talk of our ailments and pills. When I was younger, and childless, I would sit around with my friends who were new moms and have to remind myself that whether or not to have a diaper service was important to them (even though it was deadly dull to me, especially when they’d already talked it through once).
I would hate for our creaks and groans to become THE topic of conversation even among my peers. But it is definitely a fact of life and so something to be chewed over with our nearest and dearest!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nancy! Thank you for sharing your “journey” about BP with all of us. Between social media and the fact that I live in an area where people tend to be (or at least look) extremely healthy it is always tempting to think “we” are the only one going through challenges–especially if we try to avoid such topics. Like you said, we don’t want it to be THE topic every time we get together with friends, and yeah, younger folks won’t be that interested, but I do think it is liberating to talk about it with those that are close. ~Kathy
Kate Crimmins says
Interesting article. I meet a few times a year with a group of woman who used to frequent my gym. I am the youngest (in my early 70s). The oldest is 90. My husband and I had a joke that I would come home with medical information. As it turns out, I come home with useful information because some of what they have gone through is very helpful to me in my journey. I still joke about it but it is what it is. BTW I tried hearing aids last summer. It wasn’t vanity that made me decide to take them back but perhaps I wasn’t ready. Over the winter I’ve noticed either a further hearing decline or make winter is just not conducive to hearing. Anyhow This spring I will try them again and work harder to make them work.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Kate! Thanks for your thoughts on this. This is one of those posts where I wasn’t sure what people would think about it–but as always, I do hope it makes people think! It also reminded me that regardless of what we may be going through “medically” we are NOT our medication or any particular health challenge–those are just circumstances we are facing and hopefully dealing with as well as possible. As far as though hearing aids go…I STRONGLY recommend you reconsider. Here’s the article I wrote about why https://www.smartliving365.com/how-is-your-hearing-5-reasons-it-matters/ ~Kathy