Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Is it Dementia or Drug Addiction?

The Who, What, How and Why
 of Prescription Drug Addiction and Abuse
In Older Adults

A friend recently call me looking for insight. He explained the situation:

My mom seems really confused. She is acting strange. Maybe she's even hallucinating. It doesn't make sense to me. She knew we were coming over, but she won't let us in the house. Do you think she has dementia?

We talked about more of the specifics and I asked lots of questions. In the end, I came to the conclusion:  Your mom may not have dementia, she may be a drug addict. 

That's right...prescription drug use is so prevalent these days, older adults are actually abusing medications to the point of addition. As we take a closer look, let's consider WHO is at risk and WHO is contributing to the problem.

Thirty percent of adults over the age of 50 are taking at least 5 prescription medications each day. That makes potentially addictive drugs relatively easy to obtain. In fact, patients have a variety of healthcare professionals to help them along their way to addiction:
  • Primary care physicians
  • Specialists
  • Surgeons
  • ER doctors
  • Dentists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Plastic surgeons

With so many possibilities for obtaining prescriptions, drug abuse and addiction may be intentional or accidental.  WHAT makes older adults so susceptible?

An older adult's slowing metabolism yields a bigger effect when taking drugs. This is the catalyst for addition. Since drug tolerance builds with time, older patients are requiring higher doses of medications to achieve the desired results.  This is the cause of the abuse.  

Doctors tell us it only  takes 10 days to develop an addiction. But WHY are seniors seeking out these drugs? There are several possible reasons:
  • Age-related aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of worth after retirement

So,  HOW can you tell the difference between the signs of addiction and normal aging?  It may be tricky since there is so much similarity:
  • Confusion
  • Shaking hands
  • Memory loss
  • Falls
  • Mood swings

WHAT should I do if I suspect a problem?
  • Get screened- a doctor or pharmacist can analyze the medication regimen to measure the risk for abuse and addition
  • Find non-narcotic options- talk to your healthcare provider about alternatives for  treating pain, mood disturbances and insomnia
  • Look for new doctors- find a physician who is aware of the effects of medications on older adults; ensure that potentially addictive drugs are cautiously prescribed in limited quantities and for short periods of time
  • Seek treatment- programs designed specifically for seniors are available

Who do you know that might be abusing prescription medications? Can you think of anyone that might be addicted to drugs prescribed by their doctor? This problem may be closer to you than you realize. Please share this article with anyone you know who may benefit. Use it as an opportunity to start a conversation about the possibility of making a change in the way someone you love uses prescription drugs.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start now to make a new ending.
Maria Robinson