Magic pills? Wonder drugs? Snake oil?

She’s his advocate, his ears, his caregiver. She’s an attractive blonde, late forties perhaps, who takes care of her father in a new tv commercial. They look alike and maybe they’re really related. Perhaps it isn’t a made-for-tv reenactment.

The spot promotes Namenda (memantine hydrochloride) XR, a medication long prescribed for people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. The new extended release (XR) version, with seven additional milligrams of the active ingredients, offers once-a-day convenience. Used in combination with another commonly prescribed drug, Aricept (acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, AChEl), the two may keep symptoms from worsening, at least for a while.

This is one of those commercials that urges you to ask your doctor about this drug for your loved one. An announcer gives the laundry list of side effects: nausea, Screen shot 2015-01-31 at 5.05.22 PM_2vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, dizziness, tiredness, weight loss, swelling in hands or feet, fast heart rate, easy bruising or bleeding, unusual weakness, joint pain, anxiety, aggression, skin rash, redness or swelling around eyes, or urinating more than usual. Makes you wonder why you’d want something that might add to your loved one’s misery. Frankly, I think all those “ask your doctor” commercials should be banned, but that’s a post for another day.

Peter has taken both drugs for more than five years with no side effects. His neurologist asked recently if I thought the meds were helping. “How would I know?” I said. She shrugged.

The commercial oozes warm fuzzies. We see the concerned, loving daughter, her young children, and her sweet-faced father who is included in their activities, but who seems vacant, absent. “All my life he’s taken care of me,” she tells us, adding that it’s her turn to take care of him.

All well and good, and we love her for her dedication. But, jeez, am I alone in wondering why we never see the caregiver’s frustration? Neither medication is a cure. The best science can do is slow the disease for a while.

And what can science do for caregivers? Is there a magic pill for us?

If a camera were mounted in a corner at our house, it would record smiles, yes, and silly laughter, but it would also record heated talk, lip-biting, teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling, and tears behind slammed doors. The camera would see me trying to read, uninterrupted, for fifteen minutes. It would see someone else cooking, cleaning, making appointments, counting out pills, and making endless cups of tea to sooth upsets, his and mine.

Oh yes, I know there is help for some of those tasks, but I can’t—won’t, not yet—delegate most of them. Our wedding vows weren’t the traditional ones, but I did, “…promise to honor and tenderly care for you…through all the changes of our lives.”

A camera would also see the occasional enveloping hug, and Peter asking, as he always does, “What would you do without me?” At my eyebrow-raised, tilted-head glance, he would change his question to, “I mean, what would I do without you?”

And, as we always do, we’d laugh at his little joke. Truth is, I often don’t know what to do without him.

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16 thoughts on “Magic pills? Wonder drugs? Snake oil?

  1. Another thought-provoking post. Thanks, Judy. I think the big pharma advertisers find it easier to sell to the patients thru TV than to convince doctors. Agreed, this should be banned. Alzheimer’s care providers in the home would be very expensive and you wouldn’t have your finger on the pulse of changes, etc. What to do?

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    • What to do indeed! And not just me, but all caregivers who attend to all sorts of illnesses. It ain’t easy for anyone, most of all the patient!

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  2. Well shoot, you’ve all made me teary-eyed. Of course, as we know, that’s not so unusual but really did love the post and the “girls” responses!!

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    • Glad you’re happy to be crying, Honey, although I don’t think I understand that. 😉 And I’m glad to know you’re here for us. Thank you xoxoxo

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  3. One of your best writings, Judy, so true and heartfelt. All the support and love from family and friends helps immeasurably but still leaves You, the caregiver, with the 24/7 physical and emotional wear and tear. You put it all in words so well, and I can also read between the lines. But that good ol’ Ohio strength and determination only goes so far, so take care of yourself, too! cj

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    • Thanks, CJ. It’s actually easier to take care of Peter than it is to take care of me. He’s not as grumpy as I am! 😉 Almost easier, I should say.

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