Prescription Drug Misuse: Ways to Avoid Misuse among the Elderly
When people talk about addiction, the elderly age group is the last thing to come to mind.
However, you won’t be surprised to find that in the United States alone, over 40 % of prescription drugs are used by the elderly. And according to NCADI, over 17% of adults aged 55 and above misuse prescription medicines such as painkillers, sleeping pills, and sedatives.
Many adults begin to experience significant body changes as they advance in age. Their bodies tend to have increased sensitivity or reactions to medications they were previously comfortably using. These reactions may include increased body pain, slowed metabolism, memory loss, and sleeping disorders.
Older adults are likely to misuse medical prescriptions accidentally. Due to various body complications resulting from aging, the elderly take more medications than other age groups to help them live a comfortable life. Chronic health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease may result in combined prescriptions leading to higher exposure to addictive drugs.Over 50% of people aged 55-85 use prescription drugs over five times daily, increasing the risk of misuse.
Since our bodies’ ability to absorb medications slows down with age, seniors may become prone to addiction or experience adverse side effects from prescription drugs, even at a lower dosage.
Misuse of Prescription Medicines: how this plays out with older people
The elderly are among those most exposed to prescription abuse. They take more over-the-counter (OTC) tablets and prescribed medicines, and the potential to misuse them is higher by:
• Taking alcohol with medications
• Taking the medications for a prolonged period against the prescription
• Taking higher doses to reduce the pain or anxiety faster than the prescription
• Taking non-prescribed medications
• Using multiple medications at the same time, resulting in drug interactions
Common prescriptions drugs that are most likely to be misused by the elderly
Medications mostly used by seniors to relieve symptoms associated with anxiety, chronic pain, and insomnia have the highest potential of abuse resulting in addiction.
Opioids such as oxycodone and acetaminophen are commonly used to relieve or control pain. An older adult will likely become addicted by taking these medications for a prolonged period or in higher doses.
A person can develop feelings of euphoria after taking opioids in higher doses which may eventually lead to dependence and addiction, and even death.
Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, diazepam, and lorazepam relieve sleeping disorders, anxiety, and depression. An older adult may become addicted by self-medicating or taking higher doses than the prescription.
Signs to look out for if you suspect an elderly is misusing or abusing prescription drugs
Recognizing the signs of prescription drug misuse among the elderly can be complex. This is because the signs are sometimes similar to those associated with aging, such as feelings of confusion and loss of memory. Becoming familiar with your loved one’s medication routines and behaviors will help you to identify warning signs of medication abuse:
• Taking more pills than the prescription instructs. This is a definite red flag. You can confirm this by looking at the dosage instructions on the medication container to clarify whether or not they strictly follow the prescribed dose.
• Change in behavior or moods by becoming argumentative, secretive, or nervous.
• Giving a lot of excuses for taking excessive medications.
• Becoming remorseful or concerned about using the prescriptions.
• If the older person has been previously treated for substance abuse.
• Changing their physicians or drug stores should be a cause for alarm.
• Receiving similar prescriptions from more than two drug stores at the same time.
• Becoming agitated when you ask or talk about their prescription usage.
• Losing interest in fun activities that they once enjoyed.
• Hiding or sneaking medications is a common sign of drug misuse.
• Showing signs of confusion and forgetfulness.
• Showing signs of slowed reflexes and slurred speech.
• Becoming afraid of going out without taking the medication.
• Storing “extra” tablets in their pockets.
• Showing signs of decreased attention.
• Exhibiting repetitive behaviors.
Physical signs like dilated pupils, dry mouth, watery eyes, or itchy skin are also common signs of prescription misuse.
How you can help an older person to effectively manage their prescriptions:
As a caregiver or responsible family member, there are many ways you can help the senior in your care to manage their medications safely:
• Keep a close eye to ensure you know the type and reasons for taking the prescribed medications.
• Ensure the senior in your care follows the prescribed dosage consistently.
• Draw up a medication table or purchase a pill organizer to so it’s clear which medications, and how much, should be taken each day.
• Ask the relevant drug stores if they can provide all medications in compliance packaging. (That means they custom pack blister packs with the specific meds for each day & time of day that they need to be taken.)
• Offer painkillers or sedatives only when really needed and reduce/remove them as soon as possible.
• Seek alternative pain management methods in the case of long-term pain A pain management professional or therapist can be a great help, managing and reducing the pain so that your loved one needn’t depend on drugs.
• Frequently remind older people in your care to avoid taking alcohol when on medications such as opioids or sedatives.
• Ensure that your loved one has all their prescriptions with them when they attend their periodic health check-ups. This will help the doctor to have an up-to-date prescription record, avoiding further unnecessary prescriptions that could result in misuse.
• Keep a close watch on the older person in your care and help them with keeping track of their medications to help avoid prescription misuse. If you are not available for assistance due to a busy schedule, seek the services of a caregiver or professional.
• Finally, another option is to store medications in a place where a senior can’t access them, allowing them only when necessary.
How to help an elderly person suffering from prescription abuse
If you are suspicious that the senior in your care is misusing their prescriptions or have noted some warning signs as a result of medication abuse, you should contact their healthcare practitioner for immediate intervention. The doctor may book an appointment and ask you to take them for an evaluation.
If the practitioner diagnoses prescription abuse, they can devise a treatment procedure to help the patient overcome addiction. The practitioner may propose lower doses or change the medications to less addictive options to alleviate the symptoms of drug misuse.
Are you looking for more helpful resources? Community Home Health Care has a caring, experienced staff of trained in-home caregivers, including personal care aides and nurses, to help care for the elderly.
Get more insights about our caregiving services and networks and fill out the online form to receive more information about the medical, personal care, and companionship services we provide. You can call (845) 425-6555 with any questions, and we’ll be happy to assist.