Alcohol and drug abuse is being labeled as a national epidemic. It is presumed that ten percent of our population in this country abuse alcohol. However, Hays, L. et al. discovered that 2.5 million older adults and twenty-one percent of older patients in hospitals have alcohol-related problems.
There are two general groups of elderly people who abuse alcohol that can be categorized into two groups: the “hardy survivors”, or those who have been engaged in alcohol abuse for many years and have reached sixty-five, and the “late onset” group, those who begin alcohol abuse later in life. The latter group began alcohol abuse due to changes in life such as separation from a family member – possibly a spouse, retirement, death of a pet or friend, health concerns and more.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications can also cause serious problems, especially when combined with alcohol and laxatives that may cause diarrhea that can cause sodium and potassium imbalance and cause heart rhythm problems such as fibrillation. Some other drugs such as Librium and Valium have such long effectiveness in older adults, and combined with the effects of alcohol, might increase the hazard of falls and fractures.
Due to their addiction and boredom, tobacco dependence is also a serious problem among those who are advanced in years. The use of nicotine early in life readies them for morbidity and mortality from this addiction. More than 400,000 people in the U.S. die each year from smoking-related illnesses. These smokers continue to make their respiratory systems more vulnerable and are more apt to die from respiratory diseases. Products to replace nicotine work quite well in this group, especially when mixed with behavioral, supportive and other therapies that are often administered by caregivers. The problem of older citizen’s substance or alcohol abuse may be difficult to detect for families, however, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment published the following list of cues that may signify an alcohol or medication–related problem in this group:
• Change of Sleeping habits
• Unexplained bruises
• Sadness and depression
• Unexplained chronic pain
• Desire to stay alone most of the time
• Failure to bathe – cleanliness
• Trouble concentrating
• Not staying in touch with family or friends
• Lack of interest in usual activities
Family caregivers must give attention to the older family member’s life, which can be very helpful in noticing medical or social problems. Something else to consider might be to help the elderly family member get involved in activities and social interactions. Seniors’ groups that get engaged in volunteer work are ways to meet more people, find friends, companionship and self esteem.
Clinical treatment might also need to be reviewed as well as pharmacological interceding as a possible supplement to clinical treatment. Naltrexone seems to work well in the seniors as it does in other groups of alcohol-dependant patients to lessen the craving and seemingly euphoria that comes with using alcohol.
The Twelve-Step, self-help and support participation in a group should be contemplated.
Home care counselors at Safe at Home Healthcare are available to talk with you about your in-home care needs including how to reduce caregiver stress while providing better, affordable care, including live-in care. We are an elder care agency providing Home Care in Darien.