By Dr Barbara Lewis Dr Barbara Lewis, BSc, DHom, DHerb, MNIMH is a registered herbalist and homeopath in practice for the past 24 years. She has taught homeopathy at the Durban Technicon, and has recently co-authored a self-help book on homeopathy. Dr Lewis practices at the Refuah Healing Centre in Sea Point and in Rondebosch, Cape Town, tel. 021-433 2858.
Because of diminished liver and kidney function elderly patients do not always tolerate conventional medication, sleeping pills and drugs very well, making the safety and efficacy of homeopathy even more important in these patients. Barbara Lewis introduces us to this gentle approach to treatment of the elderly.
Within the last few days I met with three different senior citizens. I enjoyed a brisk walk on the beachfront with my nearly eighty year old-young mother (‘walk up straight, Barbara, its not good for your back to slouch’) who works regularly at an aged home helping with teas for the ‘old’ people and has a very active, busy life. I also visited someone a lot younger, but very ill in the frail care facility of an old age home. Jess has been my patient for quite a while. Her incontinence and tendency to fall had become much better with homeopathic help, but she recently fell in the middle of the night and twisted her knee so badly that it was decided to operate on it. Now she was confused from the anaesthetics, and back in adult nappies. So sad.
The next morning I drove up to a retirement complex in George to visit Dr Margaret Tennant-Blakeway, one of the first medical homeopaths in South Africa. Dr Blakeway started studying homeopathy in 1954, and soon drew others including George Vitikolkas into her study group. She has taught and treated numerous people in Johannesburg, Sedgefield and George and although officially retired, she has never stopped teaching and sharing her knowledge, insights and compassion. I mentioned to her that I was writing this article and within a few minutes books were pulled out and discussion began. So it is with great affection, love and respect that I dedicate this article to Dr Margaret Tennant-Blakeway.
Dr Blakeway believes that the development of the nuclear family has not been good for humanity or for the aged. The experience, knowledge, memories and opinions of the older generation have been discarded and disrespected and it is left to youth to ‘reinvent the wheel’. This is not the case in three-tier families. Often fewer mistakes are made when the experience of the elderly is combined with the innovation of youth. Children gain immeasurably by having grandparents and extended families as role models of different ways to experience and handle their daily lives. Many of the physical illnesses of the aged can be triggered by feelings of loneliness and uselessness. Issues of loneliness, depression, insecurity and poor nutrition; concerns about finances, lack of occupation, health, and the health of one’s spouse; and worries about family, the future, dependence, isolation and accommodation, have all been identified as the main problems concerning the elderly. With loving human connections we handle the physical pain of our bodies much better, says Dr Blakeway.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her books on death and dying, writes extensively about dealing with the baggage of ones life and resolving the anger and resentment towards our life experiences. (Remedies like Staphysagria for buried emotions and the suppression of indignation and grief, Nux vomica for irritability, and Natrum mur for grief and loss, may be useful here). Where possible it is also imperative to complete ‘unfinished business’ and to tell our story to others to find and appreciate the meaning of our time on this earth. Age as such is not a disease, but the aging process can make us vulnerable to ‘wear and tear’, diminished liver and kidney function and many of mankind’s illnesses. So it is important to eat well, drink sufficient fluids and take the necessary vitamins and supplements to maintain good health so that our older years may be healthy.
The effects on the system of heavy toxic metal pollution also cannot be underestimated in causing chronic conditions. Illnesses associated with old age include memory problems leading to Alzheimer’s and dementia, rheumatic problems, incontinence, constipation and hypertension. It is not within the scope of this article to deal with such serious complaints, but do consult with a registered homeopath for personal and individualised treatment. Many of these conditions can be helped substantially with good homeopathic care. As has been explained before, homeopathy treats the individual using a remedy that covers the person’s specific illness-picture or energetic state of being.
The following is a description of some of the different remedy pictures that may be of use in the treatment of elderly patients.
Alumina Oxide of aluminum or pure clay matches a symptom picture of dryness of the skin and mucous membranes leading to constipation with a very dry stool. Alumina-type people have little appetite as food has no taste; they prefer juicy fruit and vegetables, while potatoes disagree with them. The dryness affects the cerebrospinal axis leading to poor co-ordination and fatigue with a desire to lie down. Habits become sedentary. There may be a depressive mental state, often worse on waking, with a fear that one is going to lose one’s reason. Alumina types are said to sneer at everything, but are also anxious, restless and have confused dreams of ghosts. The memory diminishes and becomes weak.
Ambra gris or ambergris is the white substance found floating on the sea formed in the sperm whale. It is a great remedy for those who are weakened by age, the shock of business failure or the effects of many deaths in the family, with an impairment of all functions. There is faintness, twitching and cramping in the fingers and hands, and nervous hypertension. Slow comprehension develops, with a desire to be alone. They become weepy and confused, dreamy and melancholic and time passes too slowly. A characteristic is bashful shyness to the extent that they cannot urinate if anyone is present in the room. They cannot sleep from worry, and despite being worn-out they are over-impressionable. Music aggravates their symptoms.
Baryta carb is especially indicated in infancy and old age where people may become childish. In elderly people of this type there is early degeneration and senility, with degenerative changes of the heart, brain and vascular system. There is increasing mental weakness, poor memory, frequent forgetfulness of the word they were about to say, and silly thoughtless behaviour. A sensation occurs as if the brain were loose. Such people lose confidence in themselves and become averse to company and especially strangers. There may be weight loss in people who were well nourished, as they are often too tired to eat. Vertigo of the elderly, a feeling of being hot at night, and sleep disturbances such as frequent waking and talking in the sleep, and an enlarged prostate, are also part of the picture. This remedy is useful in treating aneurysms.
Baryta mur is the chloride of barium. People of this type have similar symptoms to Baryta carb typology, with the addition of vascular degeneration leading to hypertension, with a characteristic high systolic and low diastolic pressure. Baryta mur is indicated for people with leukaemia, MS, deafness and aneurysm, and for old people with bronchial infections. There is often a feeling of great weakness with a desire to lie down.
Conium, the poison hemlock that caused the death of Socrates, by a slow ascending paralysis, is rendered into an extremely useful and safe remedy by the homeopathic principle of dilution and succussion. It is the remedy for those ill patients with difficult gait, trembling and a sudden loss of strength while walking, with painful stiffness of the legs. This remedy is especially indicated in people who become old early. There is progressive debility and giddiness while walking, even with the eyes open. The sufferer is drowsy by day and suffers nightmares at night.
Kali phos is indicated in cases where there is an increased sensitivity to impressions from a weakness of the vital resistance. One can become weakened by shock, over-strain and over-drain of the system. The nerves become weak and easily ‘fagged’ leading to a gloomy, depressed, angry, forgetful outlook with a fear of crowds and death. The person needing Kali phos becomes withdrawn and indisposed to meet people or talk with them. They yawn and are drowsy in the daytime, but are often sleepless from worrying over their business or financial affairs, their future and their health. They look careworn. There may be weakness of the back necessitating leaning on chairs. There may be humming or buzzing in the ears, with deafness due to nerve atrophy. A dose of Kali phos 30ch may help the person sleep much better if the rest of the picture ‘fits’.
Plumbum metallicum, or lead has an extremely deleterious effect on the nerves and spinal cord causing slowly progressive symptoms of trembling, jerking and convulsions to appear. It will be a homeopathic remedy for those symptoms as well as symptoms paralysis of single parts causing colic, stubborn constipation, hypertension and wrist and foot weakness leading to drooping of the limb. The feet of such people feel as if they are made of wood as a result of muscular atrophy. Perception becomes slow, with difficult comprehension. The memory weakens or is lost and the personality changes and becomes deceitful and taciturn. There is often mental depression and sometimes paranoia about being poisoned. They may exaggerate their condition when being watched. Rheumatic problems that are worse on first movement in the morning and improve as one limbers up may respond to remedies like Rhus Tox, while rheumatic problems that are aggravated by movement may respond to Bryonia. Incontinence in the elderly may require remedies like Tuberculinum, Causticum or Secale.
These are all deep-acting constitutional remedies best prescribed by a professional homeopath. There are many other remedies for the treatment of people who are ill in their old age, depending on their conditions and specific response to the stresses and vicissitudes of life. This will be specific to the individual and his or her circumstances. Maintaining good health with a good highfibre diet rich in fruit and vegetables and a lifestyle of regular exercise, good sleep patterns, friendships, people and family to talk to, being valued and valuing others, pets, community involvement, the mental stimulation of hobbies, spiritual and religious beliefs and meaning, meditation, love and laughter will all add years to one’s life as well as life to one’s years.
See table on herbal remedies and vitamins for the elderly on page 117.
• Ginko biloba increases the blood supply to brain cells, enhancing brain function. It is also a powerful antioxidant.
• Crataegus or hawthorne berry aids circulation, and helps in the normalisation of blood pressure, but is safe to use even if one is on blood pressure medication.
• Dandelion, or Taraxacum, and milk thistle (Carduus marianus) are gentle bitter herbs that aid liver function, promote the flow of bile, reduce the toxic load in the body and gently help bowel function.
• Buchu (Barosma crenulata) aids kidney function, and corn silk (Zea mays), celery (Apium graveolens) and nettles (Urtica dioca or urens) help bladder function and reduce uric acid levels, reducing the severity of rheumatic problems.
• Ginseng gives extra energy, improves brain function, increases the circulation and promotes a good flow of blood to the cells
• Garlic reduces cholesterol levels, aids immune function and protects the heart.
• Green tea is a powerful antioxidant and aids in cancer prevention.
• Wild yam, soy products and licorice contain steroidal glycosides that are rejuvenating and help build muscle. Licorice is an effective anti-inflammatory, but should not be used if one suffers from high blood pressure.
• A good multivitamin rich in B vitamins, especially B12, vitamin C, selenium, zinc
• Vitamin C 500mg twice a day
• Calcium and magnesium with boron to help build bones and prevent muscle cramps
• Vitamin E 400iu daily. It is a potent antioxidant that protects cell membranes.
• Coenzyme Q10 aids circulation, improves cellular oxygenation and protects the heart.
• Potassium levels in the elderly should be checked, and bananas, grapes and guavas should help in maintaining this.
• Omega 3 and 6 (flaxseed oil, fish oil, evening primrose oil) is essential for proper brain function and protects the heart.