A Caution for Colorado Caregivers: Drug Misuse by Seniors on the Rise

drug-misuseWhen most of us think of problem drug users, seniors are probably the last group of people that come to mind. It is why the statistics that show an upward trend of drug misuse caught many off guard.

Pinpointing exact numbers is difficult, but experts believe between 12 and 15% of seniors who seek medical attention are misusing a prescription medication. It equates to about one million older adults misusing or abusing drugs. Many researchers believe that by 2020 that number will be closer to 2.7 million seniors.

We thought it was important to take time this week to share this information with Colorado caregivers who read our blog and to encourage each of you to share this with friends and colleagues who may also be caregivers.

Drug Misuse Versus Drug Abuse

This is an important distinction to make. While both can lead to the same dangerous outcome, drug misuse isn’t the same as drug abuse. Among senior adults, it is drug misuse that is growing.

  • Drug misuse: This occurs when a senior uses a drug that a physician has prescribed for them inappropriately. They might be taking too much to help them sleep or taking it sooner than prescribed in an effort to control pain.
  • Drug abuse: By contrast, drug abuse is when a senior takes a medication purely for recreational purposes. It might still be a prescription medication, but it is one that has not been prescribed for them.

Know the Warning Signs of Drug Misuse in Seniors

The signs and symptoms of aging can make it more difficult to detect when a senior is misusing medications. The most common warning signs to be aware of include:

  • Unsteady gait and balance problems
  • Increase in the number of falls or near falls
  • Change in disposition
  • Avoiding family and friends
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Sleeping too much
  • Quick to anger and easily agitated
  • Frequently refilling prescriptions

What to Do if You Suspect Drug Misuse in a Senior Loved One

If you think an older adult in your life might be misusing medications the best thing to do is check their medication bottles. Compare the date on the bottle with the number of pills they should have left. If the numbers don’t add up, your suspicions might be justified. Try to talk with them about it. They might become angry or aggressive with you, so exercise care and caution with beginning this conversation.

Remember, they may feel this behavior is necessary to allow them to live without constant pain. If the conversation doesn’t go well, you might be forced to notify their physician. Because of privacy laws their physician may not be able to share information with you, but it can alert them to the fact that you suspect there is a problem. 

From personal care needs and case management to guardianship concerns, Seniors in Transition provides consulting services to help families turn frustrating health care problems into quality, affordable solutions. Seniors in Transition is here to help families in the Fort Collins, CO and Loveland, CO areas. Give us a call at 970.204.6977 today.


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