Substance Abuse Problems with Senior Caregivers
Often, without an advance plan, a spouse becomes the default caregiver. Sometimes that person develops a substance abuse problem. How do you spot it?
As the population of older adults grows in the United States, so does the need for caregivers. In many cases, a senior becomes his spouse’s initial caregiver because they live together, are retired, and have sworn to take care of one another through sickness and in health. But, being the primary caregiver for a loved one takes its toll on the health and well-being of the caregiver; so much so, in fact, that a surprising number of senior caregivers develop substance abuse problems. You need to know how to determine whether this is the case in your family.
Senior Caregivers have Access to Prescription Medications
Older Americans are at a greater risk for prescription drug abuse because they take more prescription medications than other age groups. While Americans aged 65 and older account for 13% of the population, they consume an estimated 33% of all prescription drugs. They also often take more than one prescription daily, which increases the likelihood of making mistakes or mixing drugs that should not be combined.
In fact, drug misuse in the older population is rising, according to the Administration on Aging: “Misuse of prescription medications, also referred to as non-medical use of prescription drugs, is estimated to increase from 1.2 % in 2001 to 2.4% in 2020 – a 100% increase – among older adults.”
Seniors often self-medicate when they feel depressed, lonely, or isolated, and all of these feelings are common for caregivers. Many of these caregivers have access to psychoactive medications, a drug with the greatest potential for misuse. Thus, senior caregivers who turn to prescription medications often develop a substance abuse problem.
The Senior Caregiver has a History of Drinking
It is common to find seniors who have been drinking for decades and who are accustomed to having cocktails at certain times of the day. They then become caregivers and self-medicate with alcohol because they see it as a comfort. Senior caregivers often use alcohol to cope, and people who once were social drinkers begin drinking excessively to handle the responsibilities of being a family caregiver.
Indeed, caregiver burden drives senior caregivers to alcohol abuse; they experience social and emotional burdens due to caregiving, which significantly increases their risk of alcohol abuse. Caregivers also suffer declining physical health and often need more medical care than their peers who are not caregivers. They also have higher rates of depression and anxiety.
The Senior Caregiver Exhibits Signs of Substance or Alcohol Abuse
Any time you want to determine whether a loved one has a substance abuse problem, you need to know the signs. Signs of a substance abuse problem in seniors include:
Appearing over-sedated, disoriented, or impaired
Having poor balance or an unsteady gait
Requesting early refills of medication
Reporting more than once that their medications are lost or stolen
Exhibiting signs of poor hygiene or having a disheveled appearance
Experiencing appetite changes
Having mood swings or significant personality changes
Feeling increased isolation
Demanding prescription medication when visiting the doctor
You also need to know the signs of alcohol abuse in seniors:
Drinking to cope with loss or depression
Combining alcohol with prescription or over-the-counter medications
Exhibiting signs of drunkenness, including slurred speech
Lying about how many drinks they have consumed
Because some of the symptoms of substance abuse and alcohol abuse mirror signs of depression, it can be difficult to determine whether a senior caregiver is depressed or has developed a substance abuse problem. You need to confront your loved one and share your concerns about his health and how his actions affect the care recipient. You then should consult with his primary care provider to determine how to proceed with his potential substance abuse issue, especially if he has access to prescription medications, has a drinking history, and already exhibits signs of substance or alcohol abuse.
More older adults are seeking treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Family members should pay particular attention when an older parent takes care of the other parent. Ideally, professional long-term health care should be brought in to supervise both individuals and provide quality care for the one needing care.
If they have a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use the benefits. The benefits will pay for the in-home care and reduce the stress on the other parent and the rest of the family. If they do not own a policy, it may be too late since LTC Insurance is medically underwritten and priced based on age and health when the policy is issued.
Most people get coverage in their 50s, so adult children should consider getting their coverage before they retire to reduce the stress on their family and ensure quality care and better quality of life.
About the Author
Marie is passionate about connecting seniors with the resources they need to live happy, healthy lives. She developed a website to provide seniors and their caregivers with resources.
Contributor since June 22nd, 2017
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