Challenging Elderly Care: Understanding Substance Abuse in Seniors

Posted: 3/29/2016 10:08 AM by Interim HealthCare
Substance abuse is often a highly emotionally charged issue for any family. For family caregivers of seniors, however, it can be particularly trying. Many people have the perception that substance abuse is something that is limited only to young people or is something that "intelligent" older people simply would not do. This, however, is not the case. According to the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions, one in five older adults over the age of 65 have dealt with substance abuse issues. Further research estimates that nearly 2 million continue to deal with these issues as they get older. Being aware of the potential for substance abuse in your elderly care journey with your parent can help you to detect problems and encourage your parent to live a healthier, safer life.
Some things that you should know about substance abuse among elderly adults include:

• Nearly 3 percent of older men abuse alcohol to a degree that it can be considered a diagnosable disorder.
• Just over .5 percent of older women abuse alcohol to a degree that it can be considered a diagnosable disorder.
• Senior bodies process alcohol differently than younger bodies, meaning excessive alcohol consumption has a greater effect on an aging person.
• As much as 20 percent of the senior population combines medication and alcohol in a dangerous way.
• Substance abuse can contribute to and worsen a variety of conditions, including fall risk, cognitive decline, and sensory loss.
Something very important to note is that substance abuse among the elderly is not always intentional. An aging adult may not remember taking medication and take it too often, or may not realize just how much he is actually drinking. This makes it even more important that you are vigilant about your parent's health, wellbeing, and behavior so that you can detect potential issues he might not even know exist.

Some potential signs that your elderly parent is dealing with substance abuse include:

• Changes in sleep patterns
• Increased instance of falls
• Depression
• Increased memory loss
• Anxiety or nervousness
• Irritability
• Questioning whether a medication is actually working or if he is taking the right dose
• Reports that his doctor will not give him the medication that he thinks that he needs.
• Mood swings
• Asking you to bring him to another doctor because he wants a particular type of medication.
• Increased number of alcohol cans or bottles around the house.
• Cans or bottles of alcohol in strange places such as under the bed or in closets.
• Changes in behavior or personality such as increased energy, suspicion, elation, or anger.
• Taking medications with alcoholic beverages or drinking alcoholic beverages soon after taking medications.

It is important to remember that confronting your loved one about the possibility of substance abuse can be an emotionally charged and difficult conversation. Be sure that you are taking a non-judgmental approach, and consider having your parent's doctor involved in the conversation. Framing it as a part of your overall health approach rather than as something "wrong" can help to open healthy lines of communication and bring you to a resolution.

If you have an aging loved one in need of elder care contact Interim HealthCare today.