The Aging Project’ is the title of an ongoing body of work about the issues of aging in America. With two sculptures completed, and a third in progress, this is the work in my studio today. Having been a caregiver to aging family members and entering my sixth decade, the subject of aging is more than a detached observation.
The first sculpture in this series, addresses the topic of the overmedication of our country’s elderly, or ‘polypharmacy’ as it is referred to in medical circles. It’s title, ‘Part D’, refers to the section of the Medicare Program covering prescription drugs for qualifying senior citizens. This is a topic with a personal narrative and very close to home for me.
My mother takes in the neighborhood of 15 prescription medications daily. That’s down from the 24 or so that she took 5 years ago when she had her stroke. Following the stroke and before moving her out of her home of 45 years, I bagged thousands of pills from around the house I grew up in and brought them back across the country and into my studio. With a lot of pills and no particular vision for them, they stayed in a drawer for several years. How does one tell a story with blood pressure pills, thyroid meds, cholesterol pills, glucose stabilizers, pain pills, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills, heartburn meds, and the meds to counteract the side affects – potassium supplements, stool softeners, laxatives . . . all prescribed by several different doctors, many for the same ailments.
According to Armon B. Neel, Jr., Certified Geriatric Pharmacist and co-author of the book “Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?”, (2011): “Adverse reactions from prescription drugs are now the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and that’s not counting the drug-induced deaths that are mistakenly attributed to illness or disease or are otherwise chalked up to natural causes. Prescription drugs are estimated to cause at least 100,000 deaths a year, and they injure another 1.5 million people so severely that they require hospitalization.”
Translating disturbing statistics into visual art can be a tricky thing, and bringing this subject to life in the form of sculpture took some time for me.