The generation gap is nothing new. Margaret Mead once suggested that grandparents and their grandchildren are natural allies because they are both battling the generation in between.

So perhaps that is why so many people become frustrated with their aging parents who may follow doctor’s orders conscientiously even when the results are undesirable. One reader related her father’s experience: “My father started taking Zocor and within a year our family started noticing loss of memory. It got worse, and he started getting pain in his legs. Over the next year he went downhill and was hospitalized for congestive heart failure.

“Our family couldn’t figure it out. Before that he was healthy despite bad eating habits. He still had good muscle tone, was very active, and walked erect and we had great conversations. My sister and I started asking questions and discovered that his doctor had prescribed the statin to lower his cholesterol about a year before we noticed his change in health.

“We know in our hearts that the drug was responsible. We started researching the side effects of statins ourselves and were shocked to find out we were not the only ones to draw this conclusion. Finally when Dad went in for open-heart surgery to replace a mitral valve to help with congestive heart failure, we insisted that Dad not go back on the statin. Zocor didn’t prevent congestive heart failure.

“My sister and I had to fight his doctors and my mother who believes doctors are always right. Since then, though, Dad’s memory has come back and he is able to walk much better.”

Although the link between memory loss and statin cholesterol-lowering drugs is still quite controversial, studies suggest that up to 10 percent of the people who take these medicines may develop muscle pain or weakness as a reaction (Annals of Internal Medicine, June 16, 2009). Scientists are still trying to figure out the exact mechanism for this side effect and whether older people are more vulnerable.

Statins are not the only medicines that may cause unwelcome consequences for the elderly. A recent review of 27 studies found that some commonly prescribed medications can trigger cognitive problems in older people (Journal of Clinical Interventions in Aging, online June 1, 2009).
The authors blame the anticholinergic effects of a wide range of medicines. Such drugs affect a neurochemical called acetylcholine that is critical for brain function.

Some medications with anticholinergic activity include certain antidepressants, such as amitriptyline or paroxetine, and drugs for urinary incontinence, such as Ditropan or Detrol. Even the over-the-counter antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may contribute to confusion. This ingredient is found in many popular nighttime pain relievers, such as Advil PM, Alka-Seltzer PM or Tylenol PM.

Older people often have trouble sleeping so they opt for what they assume is a safe OTC pain reliever that will help them overcome insomnia. Little do they realize that the anticholinergic effects of diphenhydramine can take a toll on their mental abilities.

We should never let the cure be worse than the condition being treated. Too often seniors are urged to take medicine for one symptom that may seem to accelerate symptoms of aging.

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  1. Pam

    Was on a generic of zoloft in a small dosage to get me through a stressful time. Knew one of the side effects was diarrhea, and had mild morning diarrhea, but figured I could live with it. Then when I had my prescription refilled the pharmacist told me they had changed manufacturers for that med so the pill would look differently. Didn’t think anything of it until I started having terrible diarrhea – like water and going a dozen times in a day. After two days of that, it dawned on me that it could be the new meds. Didn’t take it, and the next day was much better. There is some truth to this “filler” thing. If you can afford the original medication, buy it instead of the generic.

  2. Bill

    I am afraid that you have gotten some less than accurate information on generic meds. The reason that they are cheaper is not due to the “filler” products. The reason, put simply, is that the ridiculous profit margin that drug companies expect from drugs is no longer an issue. Filler materials play no real role in the cost of drugs. This reason sounds good but doesn’t hold water. Do some research of your own and you will be deeply disturbed.

  3. Marie

    Thanks for writing about these important issues.
    I have also seen relatives suffer from serious side effects but it took some time before I realized – and in two cases – it was too late then.
    My mother is still going strong but have permanent problems in two of her fingers.
    I tried to convince her that statins were no good for her but I had a hard time. Her doctor also refused to listen and she was afraid of loosing him if she did not “obey”.
    Her side effects started with problems in her legs – pain – weakness – cramps. This was in 2003. By 2004 I had “discovered” some sites on the Internet and I saw that she was not the only person suffering from such side effects.
    I used to translate five patient stories at at time for her – and eventually I also sent them to her doctor with a nice letter.
    The stories were from: (Forum)
    I also read lots of books and not just about statins.
    I think it`s important to know about the “whole system” in order to make a well-informed decision about drugs.
    I liked “Overdosed America” by John Abramson and “The Truth About The Drug Companies” by Marcia Angell.
    If you visit (News) you will find an interesting article by her and lots of other useful reading.
    Anthony Colpo`s “The Great Cholesterol *Con” is an interesting book about the “cholesterol hypothesis”, side effects of statins etc.
    All statins have similar side effects so therefore look for information about all statins.
    Side effects can come soon – or after many years – when they are often diagnosed as something else or the patient is told – it`s just old age.
    Different degrees of memory loss is one of the side effects.
    Google “Wonder Drug That Stole My Memory” you will find an article in Daily Telegraph (U.K.).
    It`s written by Christopher Hudson and it`s about his own statin experience. Underneath it you will find 140 comments.
    Dr. Mercola, who`s free news letter I receive, has also written about cholesterol, statins, side effects etc.
    Google “Stopped our statins” – you will find lots of information there.
    I am really glad that I learned English ages ago. My native language is Swedish.
    It would be good if people who have found other useful books and www-sites wrote about it to help others.

  4. theresa

    When my 17-year-old daughter complained of insomnia to her pediatrician, the doctor suggested using melatonin to help with the problem. One 250 mg. pill about a half hour before bed has since helped her fall asleep and stay asleep. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone which the human body seems to produce less of as we age. In my daughter’s case, insomnia seems to run in my husband’s family. I hope this helps you and others.

  5. MAL

    I was taking Claritin OTC for unspecific allergies and sinus discomfort. I found a generic version called AllerClear that was sold under the Kirkland brand at CostCo.
    All my joints became so painful and stiff, that I actually lost confidence in being able to go up/down a couple of stairs. I could no longer go down to the floor and back up. White hot, tingly pain started in my hands, to the point it disturbed my sleep. I truly did not feel well, and felt ancient at 57.
    In May I went to a travel clinic to get shots and vaccinations in preparation of a trip to Indonesia. In truth, I felt so terrible and had such pain that I was doubting I could go on this long anticipated trip. The travel clinic was insistent in my seeing a doctor for a check up as I had not been for a while, and felt it necessary since they were going to be injecting me with some powerful serums. I was shocked when my blood pressure was checked – it was so high the doctor was talking about admitting me to the hospital. I left with a blood pressure medication prescription.
    For some reason – not because the doctor and I had discussed it – I thought the AllerClear could be the culprit, as it was the only medication I took daily. I immediately stopped taking the product. In a week’s time, I felt limber again, the horrible pain in my hands and joints had gone, and my blood pressure had dropped 20 points. I could not believe how much better I felt. I told the doctor of my experience, and she dismissed it.
    I told the nurse at the travel clinic about my experience, and she made a very sharp observation. AllerClear is a generic product, and as such WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE THE FILLER IS MADE – IT COULD BE MADE IN CHINA OR INDIA!!!! She thought I had experienced a reaction to the filler. The nurse also pointed out that in order for generic drugs to be cheaper, then they will use cheaper products – such as filler. And, India and China make cheap filler.
    Now that I have been educated a bit about high blood pressure, AllerClear or Claritin probably should not be taken. This post in no way meant to slander or bad-mouth Claritin or Aller Clear. The reason I’m leaving this post is to let people be aware of the hidden side effects of fillers in generic drugs. My decline was so slow and insidious that I didn’t put the drug and effect together. I wrongly assumed that it was some sort of arthritic condition – after all, I was 57. I am happy to report that the only medications I take are a minimum blood pressure med, occasional ibuprofren and vitamins. I now have complete mobility and am pain free.

  6. RMD

    OK, if you can’t sleep and you’re old what do they do? What do you suggest older people do besides being afraid of taking medications?

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