Tip of the Week: Misuse of Medications with the Elderly

Do you care for an older loved one who takes prescription medications?  83% of adults over the age of 60 are taking prescription drugs.  While prescription drug abuse occurs in all ages, the elderly are at high risk for drug abuse and misuse.  Misuse of drugs means the prescription for the drugs are either willfully or accidently being misunderstood. The most commonly abused and misused medications include Opiates, used for pain relief such as Vicodin® and Oxycontin®, Central Nervous system Depressants which are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders such as Xanax® and Valium®, and Stimulants which are used to boost brain activity and increase alertness, attention and energy, they also elevate blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, Stimulants include drugs such as Adderall® and Ritalin®.  Doctors often prescribe coping drugs to help with depression, anxiety and sleeplessness; however what patients may or may not know is that these drugs tend to be addictive.

The misuse and abuse of these drugs in the older population has been an unseen issue, reason being that many of the symptoms are very similar to general signs of aging such as memory loss, disorientation, lack of balance, mood swings and depression.  The elderly, their families and their service providers should all be on the same page when it comes to the medication they are on.  Specifically they should be aware of the risks of what may happen when they are prescribed multiple drugs especially if they are coming from more than one doctor.  It is common for patients to keep a written and updated handwritten list of medications and bring it with them on all Doctor appointments.  That way, the Doctors have updated lists as well as dosage so that they can properly prescribe necessary medications. Also they should be taught ways to ensure proper count of current prescriptions and proper disposal of unused medications. 

If you think your loved one is misusing their prescriptions look for programs in their area that help to ensure they get the proper care.  In California, for example the American Society on Aging (ASA) offers free training and technical assistance for providers in nonprofit and governmental agencies to help their older clients.  Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment (SBIRT) is a federally funded program that was originally introduced in Florida as Brief Intervention for Elders (BRITE).  (SBRIT)  uses a system within communities and medical settings that screens for and determines individuals at risk for substance abuse and related problems. Screening decides the severity of substance use and allows for the suitable level of treatment.

So the overall message is that as our population ages and the elderly population becomes the greatest its ever been, pay special attention to the administrating of medications among your loved ones and any changes in behavior.  Keep in mind, however, that it is not only older individual’s misusing medications.  Teens and up can and do misuse/abuse drugs.  Let’s start early in educating our loved ones about the dangers of drug abuse!  There’s no better time than the present!


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