6 Lessons Learned from Old People

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I used to work in nursing homes where mostly ‘old people’ live, or those who are very sick or terminal. I had a special practitioner license in addition to my regular one, and in Florida, I served as the Consultant Pharmacist of Record for about 14 nursing homes across the state.

Part of my responsibility in serving long term care facilities was to write monthly orders to the physicians to discontinue prescribed medications, lower dosages, draw labs or implement new items, all with one goal:

Make Old People Comfortable

I didn’t fit the mold for the classic role that Pharmacists are supposed to play in that setting… basically we were supposed to go in and skim the chart, sign it monthly and leave just as long as major glaring problems weren’t taking place. The health of the resident stayed the same, with good days and bad days… seeing the chart only monthly while there for one or two days per month (each facility) became more of a formality for pharmacists.

Just get it signed. But I started my mission back then, I just didn’t know it.  I would go in more than a few days a month, I’d actually read the chart, like page by page… each person. And I often met with the patient and talked to them, I went into some of their rooms, and held their hands and did teaching/training ‘in services’ to the nursing staff.

I did many things that a “Consultant Pharmacist” doesn’t do in this setting but I took my additional licensure very seriously and I wanted to make changes. It’s not like me to go against the grain, is it?! 😉

Yes that was sarcasm, I’ve been butting heads with the status-quo healthcare system since I was a young one! And all because I started my career in Geriatrics wanting to work with old people!


I started doing consulting work in Florida nursing homes. Patients are very heavily medicated! With the general odor difficult to bear, and the round-the-clock hours never-ending, I still found the work gratifying and the nurses very caring, most of them, not all! I learned a lot about myself.

I have reviewed thousands of medical charts, month after month and I did so for 7 years in the 1990’s ’til my heart couldn’t take it anymore. After writing thousands of medical orders and meeting and talking with thousands of “old people” I feel compelled to expose a side of me and share with you the lessons I learned back in my late 20s and early 30’s.

Now I am in my 50’s and it’s part of who I am and why I do for you what I do. And now I will share 6 ways to help those  “old people” in a significant way.

Resist the Urge to Assume

1) I learned not to assume. Notice the first 3 letters in that word! Don’t be that way. Some old people smiled at me, and some cried a lot. You might assume the smiley, more friendly ones had less grief in their life, or did not suffer from depression or pain. Not so. Some just do better at concealing their pain so as to not burden another.

You might also assume that the ones who are more emotional, or those who are crying are the depressed ones. Never assume. A person who is crying may have terrible physical pain (as opposed to depression) and they may be unable to share that. I remember finding this out when I worked in long-term care facilities.

Some people can’t talk anymore, due to a whole host of medical conditions. Rape happens in long-term care facilities too! It’s more common than one might assume. And the victims may be so disabled that they’re unable to speak anymore. So they cry. And guess what:

Crying is sometimes the only way you can speak when your mouth can’t explain how desperate you are in your body. 


Mail Things to Them

2) I learned to send “love” in the mail. I noticed that people who had friends or family visit them during the week required less medicine (and lower doses) than those residents who spent every day alone.

If you can’t be physically present, then mail something. I have often been miles apart from my children and elderly parents, but to this day I still send little gifts or cards in the mail reminding them that I love them even though we are far apart.

Since the advent of text, I’ve made a point to send encouraging and loving memes to them all the time! (They probably want me to stop already, lol, but one day when I am an ‘old people’ they will hopefully find this article and chuckle about mom.

On this note, you may enjoy reading about some new ‘health wearables’ that can track various pieces of health data: Revolutionizing Health: 15 Life-Changing Wearables, Implantable And Stick-On Devices

Old People Deserve More Respect

3) I learned respect and compassion.
The elderly have lost control of many things including their bladder function, their ability to walk, their home, car, their vision, their children and sometimes their mind! For God’s sake show them a little respect on the highway, and in the store when they are paying with change!

Just relax, if you’re lucky, you will be sort of like that, creaky, tired, somewhat disappointed in humanity, … only difference is you’ll be using a digital wallet instead of quarters!

We need to remember that every time an old person is in our way, walking too slow… or taking too long … you know, once upon a time they were just like you. They had it all, they were happy, on top of the world and excited about tomorrow! People used to ask for their advice, NOW THEY ARE INVISIBLE!
I always show respect and compassion.


Just Say YES!

4) I learned to say yes.
Saying no to things is easy because there’s always tomorrow. Is there? After working in facilities and seeing some people (even young ones who were there due to accidents) I learned that life is short, you do not have forever.

Stop waiting for a better time or 20 years will fly by. Say yes and do it. Live your life before your life is lived.

It’s the Little Things

5) I learned how little things make people happy. Like painting her nails even though she asked “What’s your name?” every 15 seconds… giving them $5 to spend when I had spare… or brushing their hair or  … holding their hand and telling them everything’s gonna be alright (even though I knew “alright” might mean a transition).

Show up with love in your heart and even if you’re just sitting there to keep them company, do it with full attention.

Keep in mind, that what you’re doing may not even be acknowledged by the person in that nursing home or hospital bed, but your ‘energy’ and the core of your being is always transmitted without words. Do things mindfully, because ‘resistance’ is transmitted. They already feel like a burden so don’t add to it. Stay home if you can’t come to them with a happy heart. They FEEL you, don’t ask me how I know.

Medications and Old People

6. I learned that some drugs are dangerous.
The use of some medications in the elderly can do more harm than good. Certain psychotropes are used to induce relaxation (tranquilize) you so you can’t annoy your roommate or staff members. It’s a difficult thing for nurses and doctors to figure out how to bring peace into  your body without turning you into a zombie and having you fall and break your hip.

Book Drug Muggers

My role was to find the right balance, or suggest discontinuations… basically bring people to life again and I was really good at that.

My take home message though, as a fresh and gung-ho pharmacist was something along the lines of, “Sheesh, this medicine makes my patient crazy and that one made her fall and require surgery and hospitalization, this one makes him slump over and drool for 5 solid hours… wow, some of these prescription drugs are dangerous!”

This is Part of What Drives Me

Now you understand what drives me … this is why I research day and night for decades to find us natural cures that work as well without side effects, without drug mugging, without potent “sudden death” as a side effect (Yes that’s on some drug warnings). Medications are almost always plant-derived, then taken to a lab where they are morphed into something that is patentable. That FDA sanction doesn’t make them safe for everyone you know.

Suzy Cohen
Suzy Cohen 2020

Nearing the end now…

If we’re lucky enough, we’ll get to be one of these “old people” then we can count our blessings right? The downside aging however, means our body will break down and we will lose control of our self. So right now, do something meaningful for someone else, and show understanding and compassion for someone who is less fortunate than you.

In the blink of an eye, your time on this beautiful planet will be over so my suggestion is to find your passion and do it. And to finish this article, I’d like to quote the lyrics from the famous song entitled “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrd’s:

To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born, a time to die.
A time to plant, a time to reap.
A time to kill, a time to heal.
A time to laugh, a time to weep.

To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to build up, a time to break down.
A time to dance, a time to mourn.
A time to cast away stones.
A time to gather stones together.

If you enjoyed this article, I’ve written another one about my husband and I – we have a LIKE AFFAIR – maybe you have one too! It will make you rethink what love is.