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2013 Live to 120: Thriving

If you want to Live to 120: Thriving, Beware of Polypharmacy

On Nov. 3, 2013, at the Peretz Center, the Jewish Senior’s Alliance sponsored a successful forum titled: Live to 120 – Thriving. Close to 200 people, consisting mainly of seniors, were informed and entertained by three outstanding speakers. Michael Jacobsen, who chaired the forum briefly highlighted how the medical system is failing our seniors, and then introduced the speakers.

Dr. Margaret McGregor

Director of Community Geriatrics with the UBC Dept. of Family practice


Dr. James McCormack

Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at U.B.C

Johanna Trimble

World Health Organization Patient Safety Champion with a focus on prescribing practices for geriatrics


“Don’t Just Do Something – Sit there! Less is More.”

The first to speak was Dr. Margaret McGregor, Director of Community Geriatrics with the UBC Dept. of Family practice, centered her talk on overmedication of frail elders and the reaction that ensues from this treatment. She urged doctors to “Don’t Just Do Something – Sit there! Less is More when dealing with frail Seniors”. She immediately had our rapt attention.

Truths (facts that we had always held to be the rules to live by regarding drugs) fell by the wayside. Facts difficult to swallow – as difficult as some of the pills some of us were taking. Despite the sharp upward trend in life expectancy, inadequate medications, inappropriate mixing of medications and often debilitating side effects are compromising frail seniors. Many of the studies regarding pharmaceuticals and other procedures do not include frail seniors and as a result what may work well for younger people is not appropriate for those who are frail.


“Become doubters, question the medications prescribed to you.”

The second speaker was Dr. James McCormack, Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at U.B.C. who chose an innovative way of presenting the facts. He used humour combined with music and audience inter-action to dispel ‘medical myths’ that we had adhered to for years. He urged us to become doubters, and to question the medications prescribed to us. He advised us to advocate for minimal disruptive medication. He also spoke about new pharmaceuticals that have become available over the past 10 years. Many medications have not proven to be any more valuable than the old ones and there have been numerous recalls. He suggested that medications need 5-year trials before mass usage.

He advocates a healthy Mediterranean diet, exercise and no smoking. Looking younger starts from the inside. He encourages people to become health skeptics (not cynics), “ask questions, and don’t believe everything you read or hear on the news regarding new cures”.
For more information about the topics Dr. McCormack was discussing go to his sites:

“Is there really an epidemic of Alzheimer’s or dementias?”

The third speaker was Johanna Trimble, a World Health Organization Patient Safety Champion with a focus on prescribing practices for geriatrics. “Is Your Mom on Drugs?” and “Is there an epidemic of Alzheimer’s or dementias, or is it over-medication with resulting hospital admissions?” was the focus of her discussion. She illustrated her point with a personal story involving her mother-in-law, a story that touched many in the audience who had experienced similar disconcerting encounters. Misdiagnosis, leading to incorrect medication can produce dire results and can be extremely difficult to deal with and problematic to change.

Doctors must look at the whole patient and involve the family members, as they are the ones who best know the patient, and who can advocate for the patients who cannot fend for themselves anymore.

Often frail seniors have a medical setback which lands them in the hospital where they are examined and tested and often receive some kind of diagnosis which requires medication which is given on top of all the other meds they may be on. Then as a result of “polypharmacy” which means over medication and possibly the use of anesthesia in the case of a medical procedure, the frail senior may develop delirium, which may result in dementia type symptoms, but it is treatable and short lived. If the health providers or family members are not astute the frail senior may be diagnosed and labeled as having dementia or Alzheimer and then there will be other medications prescribed and so it goes.

For more information about the topics Johanna Trimble was discussing go to these sites:


Recommended reading:

Dr. Sloan: “A Bitter Pill” available from Amazon.

In summary all three of the health practitioners appeared to be on the same page. They all recommend that we need to be responsible informed health consumers for ourselves and for our loved ones. We must advocate for frail seniors and be sure that medical procedures, hospital stays and prescriptions are helping not hindering or causing further harm.

By Binny Goldman and Marilyn Krygier

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