Arianna Huffington rarely misses a chance to tout her business projects. Now she thinks the death of Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher is a good opportunity to raise awareness about sleep apnea and promote a new website which sells consumer wellness products and corporate health regimes.
One problem. In a Facebook post, neither Huffington nor the author of the post headlined “Carrie Fisher’s Death Shows That Sleep Apnea Is a Serious Problem” bother to mention the fact that the actresses had cocaine and heroin in her system and fought addiction for years.
Two basics here: normal people don’t just drop dead of sleep apnea and Huffington might have used Fisher’s death to highlight a genuinely underreported issue; namely drug use among older people.
First, sleep apnea is a condition in which people literally stop breathing during the night because their tongue relaxes and blocks the airway. This means the brain does not get enough oxygen. Apnea is dangerous because it raises the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. Being really tired from bad sleep also stinks. The condition is strongly related to obesity and it effects millions of people, some who don’t even know it. Drug use can accentuate it, as the coroner indicated was the case with Carrie Fisher.
Arianna Huffington has been on a “get more sleep” kick for years. It’s a shtick which she is attempting to turn into an empire of wellness called “Thrive Global.” The new company, backed by billionaires such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma, publishes encouraging articles such as “Why Work-Life ‘Balance’ is About Way More Than Balance,” and “How to Embrace Your Shortcomings and Be An Authentic Leader.” There are also cute products for sale such as pillows embroidered with the phrase, “sleep your way to the top.”
Thrive Global’s says its “mission is to end the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance both well-being and performance.”
The old playbook of using celebrity to push an agenda worked well at Huffington Post. It’s perhaps not the right thing when it involves celebrity death.
That said, drug abuse among older people is a genuine problem. Several recent studies have found increased cocaine use among people in their 50s and 60s. Indeed, addiction among older people is often underestimated and under-diagnosed, which can prevent them from getting the help they need, according to doctors who help manage substance abuse.
The Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services reports that substance abuse among senior citizens can be classified into two general forms: the “hardy survivor,” or those who have been abusing substances for many years and have reached 65, and the “late onset” group, which is those who form addictions later in life.
It is particularly dangerous because people in their 60s have a decreased ability to metabolize drugs or alcohol along with an increased brain sensitivity to them.
In many cases where there is not an history of addiction, older people turn to drugs out of “the empty nest“ syndrome, which refers to the void children leave once they are grown up and have moved out of their parents’ home. Their absence causes a mix of new emotions.
Which brings us back to Arianna Huffington and Carrie Fisher. In many ways addiction such as Fisher’s is a messier problem than sleep apnea. Harder to talk about when it comes to older people. And also apparently still taboo when it comes to pushing a story line in pursuit of commerce.