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Does Your Senior Loved One Have an Addiction?

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Watching your parents age can be complicated.  They may be deteriorating mentally and physically, and even if they still have each other, they probably need to rely on you for support.  It’s possible you are seeing things that worry you, but you aren’t sure about the problem.  Here are some tips on what to watch for if you think one of them is developing an addiction.

Addiction and seniors

Despite the fact that through modern medicine many people are living longer, older bodies are still more susceptible to the effects of drugs and alcohol.  Additionally, many older adults take medications that don’t interact well with alcohol, which can be a dangerous combination.  It can also be easy to miss an addiction problem in a senior, making the situation much more complicated.

  • Elderly substance abuse is increasing. There is a growing problem in America with seniors knowingly or mistakenly abusing substances.  According to some studies, the number of those over the age of 50 who are abusing substances was 1.7 million in 2001.  That number is predicted to reach 4.4 million by 2020.
  • Alcohol abuse. According to EMedicineHealth, alcohol abuse is especially dangerous for older adults.  It usually takes less alcohol for seniors to become intoxicated, they stay drunk longer because their bodies take longer to process the alcohol, and they often have physical issues that contribute to falls and accidents, such as slower reaction times, hearing loss or poor vision.  Seniors are more inclined to mix medications with alcohol, too, since they often take more medications.  This can be dangerous or even fatal with certain prescriptions.
  • Medication abuse. With seniors frequently on numerous medications, it can be easy for them to abuse them.  It’s important to understand that sometimes this can happen accidentally, and someone who never abused substances previously can develop a problem.  According to the Mayo Clinic, opioids are often prescribed to older adults, and these drugs are particularly addictive.

Warning signs

Many of the symptoms of substance abuse are comparable to health conditions often associated with aging.  Here are some red flags:

Behavioral changes.  Take an inventory of what you are seeing and ask yourself about specific problems.  You should consider talking with your parent if you are noticing the following:

  • Constantly falling
  • Struggling with incontinence
  • No longer keeping house or using good personal hygiene
  • Change in eating habits
  • No longer staying in touch with family or friends
  • Developing legal or financial problems

Mental changes.  These changes in mental ability can indicate an addiction problem.  Consider talking with your parent if you notice:

  • Experiencing unusual anxiety
  • Memory suddenly degrading
  • Disinterested in their usual activities
  • Experiencing unusual mood swings

What to do

If you suspect one of your parents is struggling with an addiction, take steps to help.  The sooner an addiction is treated, the better off your loved one will be.  According to HelpGuide, here is what you can do:

  • Talk with your parent. Express your concerns in a way that is not judgemental and offer your support.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is important.  Your parent will need you to be strong and supportive, and if you run yourself ragged you won’t be able to help effectively.
  • Don’t blame yourself. Your parent is responsible for their actions.  They need to accept responsibility for the problem in the course of healing the addiction.

If you feel a prescription medication is a concern, speak with your parent’s physician.  The doctor can make an evaluation and determine the best next steps.

Your parent and addiction

If you believe your parent has developed an addiction problem, you are not alone.  It’s a growing concern, and the signs are easy to miss.  If you do see warning signs, you need to take action to keep your parent safe and healthy. Use this guide to help you guide your parent, and yourself, to a healthier way of life.

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