In San Diego County, people over the age of 65 make up only 14% of the population, but contribute to over a third of total outpatient spending on prescription medications.
There are two classes of substance abuse in those over the age of 65 as determined by the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. The first class is referred to as the “hardy survivor,” those who abuse substances for a long period of time. The second category refers to those over the age of 65 who have “late onset” abuse. Addiction can be underestimated and underdiagnosed due to the overall health decline of an individual, and can lead to the senior not receiving the help they actually need.
What causes addiction among seniors? Situations with health-related issues or life-changing events have the ability to change a person’s behavior, including escalating alcohol or drug use as an emotional crutch. Some situations that may trigger abusive behavior in seniors are retirement; death of a family member, spouse, pet or close friend; financial strains; relocation or placement in an assisted living facility; insomnia; or mental or physical health decline (depression, memory loss, major surgeries, etc.).
As they age, people have a decreased ability to metabolize drugs or alcohol. This can be particularly dangerous as elderly brains are also more sensitive due to deterioration. Even if there is no addiction, drugs and alcohol have an increased effect.
Particularly dangerous and highly addictive are Benzodiazepines. These are prescribed for anxiety, pain and/or insomnia and are some of the most dangerous prescription drugs for seniors. Each year there is an increase in reported addiction to these drugs. In addition, seniors are prescribed more long-term medications which may have negative drug interactions. Others may take another’s medication to save money if they are on fixed income or take over the counter drugs and dietary supplements. All of these scenarios may escalate the potential for abuse.
Signs of substance abuse in the elderly include:
Meals on Wheels San Diego County is helps monitor San Diego seniors’ overall well-being. By taking a few minutes each day to interact with each individual while delivering meals, Meals on Wheels volunteers have the ability to assess a change in condition and convey the situation to appropriate parties. By being there, with eyes on and ears open, Meals on Wheels is prevention medicine to deter alcohol and drug abuse and improve a senior’s ability to stay in their own home.