Pharmaceuticals, especially in the United States, are increasingly part of everyday life, leading to what the critical philosopher Nikolas Rose has called “our neurochemical selves.” The making of this type of self is, in part, driven by the self, but is silently though powerfully aided by hefty doses of advertising. One really gets the sense of this dynamic and the power of advertisements at work when you confront older advertisements, which always seem so, well, Out Of Place, in part, because they were making different selves from the ones of today.
There is one type of “self” that commands far less public signs and signals of and for the making of the neurochemical self: the elderly self, especially those with dementia and alzheimers. Because they do not have the ability/choice to decide what medications they take, especially at the later stages of the illness, advertising is not so helpful. This does not mean, however, that they are not taking psychiatric drugs. The New York Times has recently run a piece on the topic Doctor’s Say Medication is Overused in Dementia, which takes a frank look at prescription practices in nursing homes. While I am not against the use of some psychiatric medications for the elderly (I recently decided to put my mom who has severe alzheimers on an anti-depressant and it has helped, significantly), the use of cocktails for these patients is frightening. Most of the cocktails include anti-psychotics, which often induce many neurological symptoms of their own, are very harsh, and as the NYTimes piece reports, do not even seem to help these types of patients.