The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that nearly one million people aged 65 and over live with a substance abuse disorder. The disorder often goes underdiagnosed, which prevents affected seniors from getting the help they need. Here are strategies to deal with substance abuse in aging adults.
One of the fastest growing health problems in the United States is substance abuse, especially with prescription drugs and alcohol, among the elderly population. Addictions in this age group are often underestimated. Doctors overlook the symptoms of substance abuse for a few reasons.
Oftentimes, the symptoms of substance abuse mimic those of medical or behavioral problems that the elderly already face. Depression, dementia, and diabetes, for instance, cause symptoms that appear similar to the symptoms of substance abuse, such as memory problems or changes in sleep habits.
Substance abuse in the elderly can present in one of two forms: The first is the form of lifelong addiction, where seniors have already been abusing substances for several years and have reached the age of 65; these elderly individuals are known as hardy survivors.
The second group of seniors who abuse substances may fall into the late onset category. These individuals develop addictions later in life. The Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, caused some seniors to turn to substances to cope with social isolation and loneliness.
What triggers substance abuse?
Seniors may become addicted to substances later in life due to a range of causes. Health-related issues and life-changing events take a severe emotional toll on many older adults. Those who turn to substances to cope provoke substance-abusing behaviors that become full-scale addictions.
Retirement, for instance, is a potential substance abuse trigger. Death of a family member, spouse, or close friend can also lead to substance abuse. Financial difficulties, feeling a loss of purpose, trouble sleeping, family conflicts, or being moved to a nursing home are additional causes.
What are symptoms of substance abuse?
Older adults are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of substances, like alcohol and prescription drugs. The dangers of substance abuse are heightened in the elderly because they have a decreased ability to metabolize the substances and an increased brain sensitivity to them.
The variegated symptoms associated with substance abuse resemble medical disorders or mental health problems commonly experienced by aging adults. Due to the similarities in symptoms, physicians easily assume the senior’s declining mental or physical health is a result of old age.
Furthermore, substance abuse symptoms may be difficult to recognize in the elderly. Mental and physical health naturally deteriorate in this age group. Caregivers should, however, pay close attention to unusual signs in their elderly loved ones that may indicate a substance abuse problem.
Substance abuse problems can lead to symptoms that affect cognitive faculties; memory problems and changes to sleeping habits are examples. Irritability, sadness, and depression can plague seniors who abuse substances. Changes in eating habits can also be a result of substance abuse.
A senior who abuses substances may want to be alone more often. This behavior can lead to losing touch with family and friends. The senior may have unexplained chronic pain or unexplained bruises. Personal hygiene suffers, and the senior loses interest in usual activities.
How common is prescription drug abuse?
Approximately 30 percent of seniors aged 65 and over are prescribed medications, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. What is concerning is that 17 percent of seniors abuse prescription medications, per the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.
When aging adults mix prescription medications, nonprescription drugs, and dietary supplements, they are at risk for major adverse drug-drug interactions. Prescription drugs can also be accidentally misused, which can worsen existing mental health problems in seniors, such as suicidal ideations.
How common is alcohol abuse?
Alcohol is the most predominantly used drug among the older demographic. High-risk drinking occurs in 65 percent of those aged 65 and over. Binge drinking (five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women on the same occasion) occurs in one-tenth of this age group.
A substance abuse problem that is caused by alcohol misuse can cause seniors a range of health problems. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and liver and bone problems can occur. Congestive heart failure, memory issues, and mood disorders can develop in seniors who abuse alcohol.
What are treatment options?
Seniors who abuse substances have treatment options. Longer durations of care offer more promising results. The diagnosis and management of chronic conditions can help, as does rebuilding support networks. Treatment can also come in the form of improved access to medical services.
Substance abuse treatment options also include cognitive behavioral therapy, group-based therapies, individual counseling, and medical or psychiatric interventions. Family or marital therapies are effective treatments. Community-linked services and outreach may be sought out by caregivers for their elderly loved ones.
Self-medicating to heal chronic pain, sleep problems, and mental health problems is ineffective. Rather, seniors are urged to seek quality medical care and a strong support network to prevent or treat a drug addiction. Caregivers from Assisting Hands Home Care are available to provide full nonmedical support.
We offer skilled companion care services from Boynton Beach to Jupiter, including Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Royal Palm Beach, Wellington FL and the surrounding areas, to promote both the emotional and physical well-being of the seniors in our care. Professional caregivers transport seniors to doctors’ or therapy appointments, so that they receive necessary medical care or cognitive behavioral therapies.
Companion caregivers from our home care agency build strong bonds with the seniors we serve. These relationships are a critical source of social support. Not only are isolation and loneliness eased, but the social support we provide has the potential to deter problems, like substance abuse addictions.
Assisting Hands Home Care providers also oversee the senior’s physical well-being. We prepare nutritious meals so that they eat healthily, help with personal hygiene tasks, perform light housekeeping, provide safe transfer services, conduct fall-risk assessments, and give timely medication reminders.
Families turn to Assisting Hands Home care for optimum companion care services. The caregivers on our team are privileged to provide the elderly with constant, compassionate home care. Schedule an in-home consultation with us and start your elderly loved one on a path toward improved well-being.