| Tue, Mar 31, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

Senior substance abuse: the new age of addiction

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

pillsA hidden epidemic. That’s what Dr. Jamie Huysman calls the rising rate of seniors addicted to alcohol and drugs.

Dr. Huysman, a clinical licensed social worker and doctor of psychology from Wellmed Medical Management, says senior addiction won’t remain in the shadows for long.

According to the September 14, 2014 Wall Street Journal article “Fears Rise of Medication Misuse by the Elderly,” medical journals and government agencies predict the number of older adults who misuse prescription medications will increase 100 percent from 2001 through 2020, for a total of 2.7 million people.

More than 8 percent of people age 65 and older report binge drinking according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Dr. Huysman says life events, like the loss of a spouse, can lead seniors who never used drugs or alcohol to start, and can cause those who did to use more often.

He says often few people are looking for warning signs of alcoholism or drug addiction in people 60 and older. Even when they are, addiction can be tough to spot in older adults.

Dr. Huysman points to isolation as part of the problem.

Symptoms of addiction, such as memory loss, anxiety and exhaustion, can mimic those associated with aging and illnesses like depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Huysman says this is where family caregivers can have an impact.

Caregivers can note of the kind of medications mom or dad is taking, the dosage and the reason for the prescription. Prescriptions for the same drug from multiple doctors or pharmacies or a change in either could be a sign of abuse. Remember the same drug can bear different brand names. For example, oxycodone is known as OxyContin and Percocet.

Dr. Huysman says stockpiling or sneaking pills is a red flag, as is drinking alone. Also, he says, addicts may become anxious about their next medical visit and worry whether they will get the prescription they want.

Caregivers should feel empowered to talk to their loved one’s doctor if they suspect drug or alcohol abuse, says Dr. Huysman. They can explain any history of depression, past substance abuse or mood changes.

Caregivers should trust their gut and listen. Their parent or loved one may voice concerns about their own drug or alcohol usage.

When signs appear, caregivers can reach out to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging for help locating a treatment center that offers programs for seniors.

Dr. Huysman says once an addiction is identified, the prognosis for recovery is good for seniors. He says when a senior stops abusing drugs or alcohol their overall health may improve.

“When you get a senior into treatment and you remove the alcohol and drugs you may see that you have no cognitive impairment whatsoever.”

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


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