Did you know more and more substance abusers are senior citizens?
Aging and Substance Abuse
As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060. And the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 15 to nearly 24 percent (Population Reference Bureau).
Older adults are the biggest consumers of prescription medications, and we are seeing increasing rates of substance abuse among seniors. This problem is likely to grow as the population ages, so it is critical that people are informed of this dangerous trend.
If you provide care for older people as a health professional or if you have an aging parent or loved one in your life, you need to know how to identify, prevent, and respond to substance abuse and misuse in older adults.
What puts an older adult at risk for substance abuse?
There are many factors that might put an older person at risk for abusing alcohol or drugs, such as: death of a loved one, forced retirement, chronic pain, social isolation, or history of past substance abuse.
Signs of possible substance abuse among older adults may include:
- physical injuries
- increased tolerance to medication
- cognitive impairment
- sleep disturbances
- mood swings
Older adults are also at increased risk for unintentional substance abuse because they may not be able to process drugs or alcohol as quickly as younger people, placing them at increased risk for toxicity and overdose. Cognitive impairment that can accompany aging can also compromise the ability to effectively self-monitor alcohol and drug intake.
How are elderly parents supposed to keep track of all their medications?
Because so many older adults regularly take multiple prescription medications, it is not uncommon for seniors to mix-up medications or forget if they’ve taken one or not. If you are 55 or older, below are several simple tips for your or your caregiver that can help avoid substance use problems:
- Educate yourself about your health conditions and the medicines you take.
- Make a medication list that includes all your medications, including over-the-counter and supplements, the prescribing provider, purpose of each medicine, dosage, refills, side effects, warnings, and proper storage
- Use one pharmacy so records of all your medications are in one place
- Check expiration dates and dispose of expired medications
- Keep all medications in the packaging they came in so information is readily available.