The New Normal: Pill Dispensers and Replacement Parts

Somehow I thought growing old would take longer.

March 24, 2020 | | Over the Next Hill

Consider the ubiquitous pill dispenser. You know, the one with the seven (or perhaps 14) little plastic boxes stuck together in a strip? My latest one even has the days of the week labelled in Braille.

The importance of the lowly pill dispenser increases as we move through the transitional stages from the end of our career, usually in our 60s, to the joyous freedom of our 70s, and onward to the borrowed time of our 80s and beyond.

In the beginning, the dispenser may simply be a handy storage spot for the supplements and pharmaceuticals required to help us through each day. (Good, I remembered to take my meds.) Somewhere along the way it morphs into the calendar that helps us keep track of the days of the week. (Aha! If Tuesday is empty, today must be Wednesday.) And then it becomes the beacon that tells us how fast life is passing by. (How can it be empty? Didn’t I just fill that thing?)

Somehow I thought growing old would take longer.

Have you noticed that as the decades tick by, getting fitted with replacement parts has also become something of a rite of passage? In Canada, nearly 59,000 hip replacements and more than 70,000 knee replacements were performed over 12 months from 2017 to 2018. And cataract removal is the most common surgery performed in this country, with more than 350,000 procedures annually.

Do you remember hearing when you were a kid that cataracts had to be “ripe” before they could be surgically removed? I have always found that an unsettling and somewhat revolting term. Isn’t it time we changed it? Could the word “mature” work?

But I digress.

Cataract surgery is performed at the discretion of the surgeon, and the timing of the surgery is not necessarily related to “ripeness” or “maturity.” But when cataract removal is coupled with corrective lens implantation, customized vision correction often means glasses and contact lenses can be tossed.

And is there an increasing number of shining bright smiles in your group of friends? I’ve heard more about posts, partials, pegs, plates, crowns and implants in recent years than ever before.

You could say that surgeries like these are milestones in the lives of older boomers, just as getting a driver’s licence was when we were in our teens. Back then we couldn’t wait to experience the freedom and independence of getting behind the wheel. Now it’s the titanium joints and customized vision correction that provide that freedom and independence.

After two knee replacements, newly mobile Caledon farm manager Jim Pipher is grateful to live in a country with universal health insurance. Photo by Pete Paterson.

After two knee replacements, newly mobile Caledon farm manager Jim Pipher is grateful to live in a country with universal health insurance. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Jim Pipher, a Caledon farm manager, has experienced that renewed freedom – twice. He went through successful knee replacement surgery 14 years ago. Although his days of playing hockey and baseball are well in the past, at 78 and living on his own he has remained active, golfing and skating regularly. He was determined to postpone surgery on his other troublesome knee as long as possible. So he underwent two arthroscopic procedures to clean up the interior of the knee joint, and a number of cortisone shots enabled him to live pain-free for about six months.

But Jim knew what was coming. To prepare, he began a diet regimen and exercised to strengthen the muscles around the knee. He underwent his second knee replacement surgery last September.

“I was told that the procedure had improved considerably in the years since my first knee replacement,” he said. “But other than the use of the ‘game changer,’ an ice-filled compression machine designed to keep the swelling down, I found the initial recovery period just as difficult.”

Jim spent three nights in the hospital before returning home under his daughter’s care for a week. Then he hired a personal service worker who visited every Tuesday and Thursday for a few weeks.

“If I had it to do over again,” he said, “I would book into Orangeville’s Lord Dufferin Centre for the first few weeks post-surgery. Its Bridging You Home program offers a certain amount of care, plus on-site physiotherapy.”

Despite the long recovery, Jim has nothing but praise for the care he received during his replacement surgeries, and considers himself very fortunate to live in Canada with OHIP coverage.

As the first generation to have such replacement parts available to us, I agree, we’re damn lucky.

Furthermore, when it comes to dealing with creeping crepitus, the future may be even brighter. Stem cell therapy, for example, is touted as a possible treatment for a host of ills, including arthritic joints and other age-related maladies. The therapy, which aims to regenerate damaged tissue, is currently banned in Canada (with a few exceptions) because it is still considered experimental. However, it is already offered in some other countries, including Mexico, and the situation here may change as clinical trials continue.

About the Author More by Gail Grant

Gail Grant is a freelance writer who lives in Palgrave.

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