Dec 15, 2012

Elderly and Dependency

Prescription Drug Bottle With White Pills

Prescription drug abuse and dependency don’t affect only young people. Increasingly, elderly folks are finding themselves in a predicament that can escalate quickly if they’re taking prescription opiates or other meds to cope with degenerative conditions, injuries and illnesses.

Dependency is often viewed as a disease that affects the young. But it’s older people who account for nearly one third of all prescriptions written in this country. And many of these prescriptions – opiates, benzodiazepines and sleeping medications – can have habit-forming properties.


The Elderly May Be More Prone To Problematic Use Of Meds

Complicating this problem is the contention that older folks may be more susceptible to problematic use because of unique biological factors. As people age, certain bodily functions and organs become compromised. For example, an elderly person’s liver becomes less effective at filtering out medications. A slower drug metabolism can result in serious problems.

These can include an increased risk of suffering serious side effects, along with an increased risk for dependency, at lower dosages than what would be problematic for a younger person. The elderly, especially those people who are frail or disabled, are already more prone to falling and other accidents. This can cause fractures, broken bones and even death. Prescription opiates and other drugs can increase these risks, especially if side effects cause dizziness or drowsiness.

As with all people, the elderly are susceptible to developing a drug tolerance whether they’re taking opiates for pain or benzodiazepines for anxiety. This means the drugs build up in the system and become less effective. Many people begin taking more at this point, to achieve the same effects. Some do it without fully understanding the consequences. Others do it out of desperation for relief, knowing this can be a slippery slope.


It May Not Be Obvious If An Elderly Loved One Is Abusing Prescription Meds

Detecting drug abuse or dependency among seniors can be difficult. First, they don’t fit the typical stereotype. Few people suspect that grandma or grandpa is a drug abuser. Second, doctors may be more willing to prescribe these meds for older folks and fail to recognize the signs (including running out of pills early), which can sometimes be excused for forgetfulness or confusion.

The emotional component of drug dependency cannot be ignored. Elderly folks suffer depression, anxiety and fear the same as other people. This is often complicated by issues of social isolation, failing health, deaths of loved ones and loneliness. They may begin to take more medication to dull these negative emotions.

Treating the elderly for prescription drug dependency has its challenges. Many of them are in denial and family members may not recognize a problem until it has escalated. Detox and withdrawal can be challenging for the aging body, so a doctor should absolutely be consulted for help.

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