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Aging is not for the faint of heart, as the saying goes, and many elderly Americans find that growing old gracefully means sticking to a schedule of prescription medications.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that adults 65 and older make up 13 percent of the population, but adds that this demographic “accounts for more than one-third of total outpatient spending on prescription medications in the United States.”
While the nation’s seniors are not, generally speaking, in the news for substance abuse reasons, they’re just as vulnerable as any other part of the population to suffer from the disease of addiction.
As with anyone coping with drug and alcohol dependencies, there are many factors at work. The elderly often suffer greater isolation due to a lack of mobility, which can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
The loss of a longtime spouse, partner or friend in this population makes grief a common, though no less difficult, struggle.
Seniors might also have a history of addiction in their past that doesn’t simply disappear with age and without proper treatment.
Recognizing the signs of substance abuse is tricky, especially for the children of aging parents. No one wants to believe his or her loved ones are suffering.
Yet it’s important to know what to look for in case an individual suspects their parent or family member or, if they’re a caretaker, their client is abusing drugs and alcohol.
What are Substance Abuse Red Flags to Watch For Among the Elderly Population?
- Are they asking for medication before the scheduled time it’s normally taken
- Do they have multiple prescriptions for one medication, but from different doctors or pharmacies
- Have they recently become withdrawn or argumentative in discussing their medication use
- Are they carrying around a specific bottle or pocket-supply of a medication
Misusing or abusing medication is particularly dangerous for the elderly. Mixing alcohol, for instance, is never healthy when taking prescriptions for insomnia, osteoarthritis or high blood pressure.
Age is a factor in how the body metabolizes certain medications and other substances. The likelihood of serious drug interactions is higher in seniors than in younger adults in recovery, and can be longer and more arduous.
Caregivers, whether hired or family, should also make sure prescriptions come with large print labels to avoid misreading the dosage. This feature is available from the pharmacy but it has to be requested.
Using other tools, such as pill organizers or technologies like watches and timers with alarms, are helpful in keeping loved ones on the right schedule for their meds.
In the case of abuse with either prescription drugs or alcohol, addiction treatment is a good option. Physicians and counselors can work with seniors and the elderly, just like anyone else.
In many cases, one on one counseling along with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will speak to the underlying issues for their choices and provide a new outlook.
There’s no age limit on grief, loneliness, depression and any number of other issues that drive people to self-medicate. It’s important to keep aware and check-in regularly on the seniors in your life. They might need more help than you realize.