National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month occurs throughout all of October, and the purpose of establishing this month of awareness is to increase public consciousness regarding the dangers of prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter drugs when either is abused. In Oxford and elsewhere around the country, a number of older people become confused about the dosage or frequency of taking their medications and make mistakes that can affect their health. Senior home care professionals help to monitor this situation, understanding that taking medications can be crucial to the ongoing health of a senior person. It’s also possible for a senior to misunderstand the side effects, the interactions between drugs, and whether or not they’ve already taken that particular medication during the day. For all these reasons, it’s very important for seniors to be as drug savvy as possible.
Widespread substance use among seniors
Generally speaking, illicit drug use tends to decline in the years after young adulthood, but that’s not true among adults age 65 and older. According to information from a recent survey, there are nearly one million adults aged 65 and older who have a substance use disorder (SUD), with many of these having reached a fairly critical point. While the total number of SUD patients admitted to treatment facilities for a 20-year period starting in 2000 had several fluctuations, there’s no doubt the percentage of older adults was constantly on the increase. During this time frame, the percentage of older adults with a SUD problem increased from 3.4 to 7%. This should point up how serious the issue is among seniors, and why it bears constant monitoring and remediation.
Impact of drugs on seniors
Natural aging can definitely lead to social and physical changes with increased susceptibility to the misuse of drugs and other substances. Very little research has been done about the impact of drugs and alcohol on aging brains, although it is known that seniors metabolize substances much more slowly, and their brains are definitely more sensitive to drugs. Older adults are also a great deal more likely to undergo mood disorders, memory issues, and problems with bodily organs like the lungs and heart.
Drug use can exacerbate these conditions, worsening the negative health consequences of any kind of substance usage. It’s also possible that the effects of many types of drugs can result in accidents, various types of falls, and vehicle crashes. Many of these are due to drug effects such as reduced coordination, impaired judgment, and slower reaction time. These kinds of injuries can be a much greater risk to seniors than they are for younger adults, and they will always require a noticeably longer period of recovery time.
A natural part of the aging process is when seniors develop chronic health conditions, and that means older citizens are more frequently prescribed medications than other age groups. This exposes them to a much higher rate of potentially addictive medications. A study conducted among 3,000 adults between the ages of 57 and 85 showed that there was a frequent propensity to mix prescription medications, dietary supplements, and drugs of the non-prescription variety.
More than 80% of all participants had made use of at least one daily prescription medication, and as many as 50% of these were taking at least five supplements or medications. That means that at least one out of every 25 persons in this age group was vulnerable to a major interaction between the drugs they were taking. There are also a number of risks possible from the accidental misuse of prescription drugs, and this has the potential to worsen any kind of mental health issues the senior might already have.
A study conducted in 2019 on patients over the age of 50 found that more than 25% of the participants who misused prescription opioids had suicidal thoughts or tendencies. This was compared to 2% of that same population which did not use any kind of prescription opioids at all. This clearly points up the need for very careful screening before such medications are prescribed for seniors.
Treatment of substance use disorders in seniors
A good many medications and therapies have shown great success in treating substance use disorders among seniors. Research shows that older patients have much better results when they are exposed to longer periods of care. Ideally, these will include diagnosis and management of chronic issues the senior is facing, as well as developing social networks, improving medical service access, better case management, and better staff training for caretakers.
It’s possible for providers to confuse SUD symptoms with natural age-related or other chronic health conditions. With more research, it will be possible to develop a better screening method for older adults who may have SUD issues. It will also be necessary to develop more programs that take into account medical and psychiatric conditions. Generally speaking, seniors who are involved in any of these treatment programs respond fairly well to the care they are given. This makes it clear that more seniors need to be included in such programs, and more programs need to be developed that can help seniors with SUD issues.