Be aware of the dangers and warning signs of this growing problem.
Abuse of alcohol among adults over the age of 65 has been estimated to be as high as 17 percent. Although seniors make up about 14 percent of the US population, they account for about 25 percent of yearly prescription drugs. As many of these prescriptions are for chronic pain, insomnia, and anxiety, this can be a dangerous cocktail for seniors. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, the number of cases of substance abuse in the elderly is predicted to double by the year 2020.
"As the ‘baby boom’ cohort ages, the extent of alcohol and medication misuse is predicted to significantly increase because of the combined effect of the growing population of older adults and the cohort-related differences in lifestyle and attitudes." —Geriatrics
A recent review published in the journal Geriatrics finds that seniors are less likely to fear prescription drugs than their parents and more likely to abuse them, especially if they are also abusing alcohol.
Seniors rarely obtain drugs illegally. They are more likely to get drugs by seeing multiple doctors, stockpiling medications over time, or getting medications from family members. Doctors contribute to the problem by not recognizing the potential for substance abuse in the elderly and family members are often reluctant to voice their concerns or confront seniors.
More seniors are living alone and studies show that living alone is a risk factor for substance abuse. It is also harder to detect substance abuse in the elderly if the senior lives alone, and seniors are unlikely to admit to this problem. So if you are a caregiver, you need to be aware of these substance abuse warning signs:
If you suspect alcohol abuse, let your senior’s health care provider know you are concerned. If you suspect drug abuse, get a shopping bag and collect all the prescription and over-the-counter medications in the house. Take them to your senior’s heath care provider. Health care providers have screening tests they can use to detect alcohol or drug abuse in seniors. They can adjust medications, change doses or eliminate unnecessary prescriptions.
The good news is that if substance abuse treatment is required, seniors respond just as well or even better than younger people.