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Drug and Alcohol Abuse – Senior Mental Health

May 15, 2017 by Anonymous

The most common mental health problems of the aged are depression, anxiety, dementia (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease), drug and alcohol abuse, and paranoia. The suicide rate is higher for the elderly than for any other age group.
The diagnosis and treatment of a mental disorder can be complicated in an aging population. The
elderly often have multiple chronic conditions and multiple medications being prescribed by multiple doctors. They also have possible drug interactions, social isolation, limited mobility, and increased emergency room visits, sometimes with poor follow-up. Alcohol and drug abuse, particularly prescription drug and opioid abuse among older adults,
is one of the fastest growing health problems in the US.

Alcohol Abuse
Recent studies find that as many as 2.5 million older adults (about 17% of the over-65 population) have alcohol- related problems. Most older adults aren’t even aware of the risks, but if the person in your care takes more than two to three drinks a day (more than one for women), he or she is at increased risk for serious health problems:

  • There is a greater risk of dying of stroke or heart attack.
  • Alcohol is a proven cause of cancer, second only to smoking.
  • People who drink to excess are at higher risk of hardening of the arteries and heart disease.
  • Long-term heavy alcohol use leads to muscle disease and numbness in hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy), that impairs the ability to walk.
  • Alcohol abuse impairs the memory, both while drinking and in the long term.
  • Daily alcohol consumption increases the likelihood of weight gain, and gaining weight leads to other health problems, like diabetes and joint damage.
  • Alcohol is the major cause of serious liver disorders; because many important medications are processed through the liver, liver damage can make it much harder to control some illnesses.
  • Heavy drinking can make diabetes worse.
  • Heavy drinking can cause weak bones (osteoporosis), which leads to fractures.
  • Alcohol abuse can cause or worsen mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Women and Alcohol
For women, more than one drink a day can be harmful. Here’s why:

  • Women tend to be smaller and proportionately have less body water where alcohol is diluted.
  • Breaking down alcohol is slower in women since their stomach enzymes are less active. This makes the entry of alcohol into the bloodstream more likely.
  • Alcohol has a greater effect on women’s driving skills, which can result in a fatal car crash.

Drug Abuse – Opioids and Painkillers
Americans are becoming addicted to opioids, a class of drug that is killing them in record numbers, especially Oxycodone, Percocet or Fentanyl — drugs all classified as opioid painkillers. People with addiction to these drugs are often older Americans, who are developing addiction through medical use. The death rate is much higher among the elderly than it is in the younger group. Women are also especially vulnerable. If someone in your care is struggling with these drugs, encourage him to talk to an addiction expert.

Insomnia and Depression
Depression in the elderly is often misdiagnosed as dementia or Alzheimer’s and some health care professionals may mistakenly think that depression is normal for the elderly. Seniors are often under-treated for depression and other mental health problems. However, depression can and should be treated when it occurs, since untreated depression can delay recovery or worsen outcomes for other illnesses.
Nearly half of all people with depression report trouble sleeping, and people with insomnia are nearly twice as likely to be depressed. Curing insomnia in people with depression could double their chance of a full recovery.
Mental Health Treatment
The most commonly used therapies consist of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), self-help or support groups, stress-management techniques, and medications like antidepressants. A physician with specialized geriatric training can be part of the health care team, especially helpful to the person taking multiple medications and/or experiencing symptoms of mental illness.

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
~Walter Winchell

Don’t Fall – Be Safe
Antidepressant medication is the number one drug associated with falls in the elderly. This is because many of these drugs have strong sedative properties and can make people clumsy.

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