Caring For An Elderly Parent With Addiction Issues!
As your parents age, health problems begin to increase in both numbers and severity at an alarming rate. Pretty soon, health issues that were manageable when they came at you one at a time become part of a stack of problems that are interconnected and increasingly difficult to separate.
The elderly tend to be forgetful, which makes it difficult to make an early diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. On top of this, your parents may be suffering from lifelong mental health issues that can increase in severity as they age. Depression, anxiety and various forms of everyday neurotic issues can increase as people age for a number of reasons. Depression can be held at bay by a good day at work or by working out. Nothing beats depression like a good run. But the older we get, the depression that may have haunted our early years now becomes worse because work and vigorous exercise are no longer available to us.
Human beings tend to be neurotic, which is to say anxious about many things. When you add to that the prospect that a life is coming closer to the end, who is to say whether or not these anxieties naturally subside or whether they increase. After all, the prospect of death makes everyone at least a bit jittery.
Substance abuse problems also take a predictable turn for the worse as people age. When you are younger, stronger and busier, an alcohol problem can be either managed or masked well enough for many people. When those people retire, some have too much time on their hands and their drinking problem has nowhere to go but into high gear. Masking the problem becomes harder and time alone tends to allow an addiction problem to grow worse, anyway. When is it time to look for a prescription drug abuse recovery program?
What happens now sounds like a bad punch line or a recipe for disaster. What happens when you add together latent depression, an addiction problem, and the standard health problems associated with aging, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, digestion problems, arthritis and the like. Now sprinkle into this mix dementia or early Alzheimer’s disease. Combine this with psycho-social symptoms of aging, like isolation, boredom and feelings of despair.
Now you get the picture, but you don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle just yet because there is a distinct tendency of doctors to prescribe pain pills to the elderly just to help them cope with everyday aches and pains. I know this personally from experience. At age 60, I complained of a back ache, which went along with other types of muscle pain and my new diagnosis of type II diabetes. My general practitioner, out of the goodness of his heart, gave me a prescription for pain pills and when I filled the script, I was shocked to find the pharmacist handing over the biggest bottle of pills any pharmacist had ever given to me and I was eligible for three refills, as well! I hadn’t even asked for that. My doctor was just being nice and he knew that aches and pains are pretty much here to stay once you hit a certain age.
Yes, this adds up to a national health concern. Doctors are writing scripts for pain medication for folks who are nearing their forgetful years and who have spent many of the past four decades of their life nursing along mild to acute levels of addiction to begin with. I quit drinking in my 30s, because I was drinking myself to an early grave … and I haven’t touched a drop since. But now I can merrily become a prescription drug addict, no questions asked.
Alzheimers.net says that a 2011 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that illicit drug use increased from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 6.3 percent in 2011 among adults age 50-59. What were the drugs of choice: Opiates, cocaine, and marijuana.
Alheimers.net further explains that Baby Boomers, who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, are reaching their sunset years decades after living through decades in which illicit drug abuse was at dangerously high levels. Furthermore, a study at the University of Edinburgh looked at the brains of deceased intravenous heroin and methadone users and found the nerve damage in their brains resembled that of patients with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
It should be no surprise that people with addiction issues exhibit symptoms similar to people with Alzheimer’s disease. They are forgetful, distracted, nervous, depressed and often paranoid.
How we manage pain suffered by someone we love is a defining moment for both the elderly patient and the caregiver. We are a caring society and we have pain medicine that can help and yet we don’t want to create more problems than we solve.
These are individual problems that need to be addressed by a doctor, caregivers and, if needed, a pain treatment specialist.