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My Parent’s Drug Problem?

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May is Mental Health Awareness month, and that makes it a good time to talk about America’s Drug epidemic…an epidemic that affects older adults every bit as much as it does teens. It also is a good time to start a conversation with that older loved one in your orbit.
Mental health is not just an issue of seniors, but you might be surprised to know that prescription drug misuse disproportionately affects Americans 65 and older. And it is part of an growing trend. In 1988 about one in three Americans had been prescribed three or more medications, but that has grown to well over half the 65+ group now having three or more meds in their bathroom cabinet. And that does not include the rising rate of alcohol abuse among seniors in America. Why the increase?
When you talk with public health officials they cite an increasingly fragmented health care delivery system where all of a patient’s physicians may not be communicating with one another. So, the number of prescriptions will rise as a function of the aging complaints and the number of physicians a patient sees. Older patients are receiving an escalating number of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds and prescriptions for sleeplessness. And older patients just live long enough to have more pain and more medical issues, and that begins to explain the escalating number who receive prescriptions for opioids…it is not just “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” any longer.
And aging has a way of exposing an individual to more of life’s losses that simply take an emotional toll:
• Retirement is not always freedom – for many it is an emotional loss
• Older adults also can outlive spouses and friends – another emotional loss
• Some older adults live in fear of outlasting their money – an emotional strain
• Surgery or other life changing medical episodes – an emotional strain
• And the list goes on…
All of the above can result in that conversation with a physician who attempts to relieve some of the physical or emotional pain medicinally. Or an older adult can self-medicate with alcohol. So, if you are a caregiver to an older loved one or have someone special in your circle, take time for a conversation. You may be surprised by what you learn. You may also find that you can be part of a mentally healthy solution to what may be affecting that individual. Starting a conversation is a great way toward becoming part of the cure.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.

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