When the subject of addiction comes up in conversation people most often think of teenagers or young adults. When alcohol abuse is mentioned the middle-aged may be brought into the mix as well. Rarely are seniors thought of in the population of addicts. However, substance abuse is not an uncommon occurrence among elderly people. Due to the lack of awareness of senior addiction, many caregivers are quite unprepared to deal with the situation.
Having grown up in the 1960’s, baby boomers who are now becoming seniors have a much higher percentage of early drug experimentation than previous senior populations. This is a factor of note because it can shade one’s perception of prescription drugs. A senior who participated as a recreational drug user while young may regard the use of prescription drugs causally, or may be extremely cautious and conservative.
Seniors are the most likely age group to be prescribed a long-term medication. Furthermore, to deal with various illnesses or ailments, multiple drugs can be prescribed, each with its own potential adverse effects and side effects. This can quickly become a difficult situation to manage. Drugs must be taken at certain times, in certain doses, with or without food and a myriad of other directions. Many have contraindications. It is very important to have one physician and/or pharmacist review regularly all the drugs a senior is taking.
Drug addictions in seniors most commonly occur with drugs that are prescribed after a disabling injury. The drugs given to them during recovery can quickly change from a daily dose to a daily necessity. Moreover, the body naturally builds up a tolerance to many drugs, requiring a steadily increasing dose to address pain and discomfort. It’s a dangerous cycle. When mixed with sleeping pills, or other medications, seniors can find themselves addicted without realizing it, and without wanting to become drug dependent.
It can be tough for loved ones or caregivers to identify the addiction. Seniors who desire to continue living on their own may be extremely hesitant to mention signs of addiction, or of any problem whatsoever, for fear of losing their independence. Many seniors fear that even a tiny sign of weakness can tip the scales as a sign that they need to moved out of their home. On the other hand, symptoms caused by addiction such as forgetfulness, loss of balance, or other health problems may be recognized but misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or other conditions.
Caregivers and loved ones can help seniors with the medication maze by keeping their homes free of expired prescriptions. Additionally, they can open up the conversation with seniors to honestly discuss the possibility of addiction, and what can be done to help. It’s nothing to be particularly ashamed about, especially as addiction to prescribed medications is usually inadvertent. The more help, the better. Avoiding the problem will only lead to more problems.