Addictions and the Elderly: Crisis Intervention

Posted on January 18, 2011 by - Elder Care Marketing

This week my guest blogger is Susan Avello, a colleague of mine in the elder care marketing field. Susan shares her thoughts on caregiving and addiction by using her own personal experience with trying to help a family member overcome their own addiction. Susan lives in the Chicago area.

Okay, we’ve all seen the reality show “Intervention” and thought to ourselves, “If my family ever did that to me, I would just be so embarrassed.” The family member who is highlighted on the show has issues with addiction and is truly humiliated, yet most of the time the person gets the help they need and all of TV land gets to watch.

While I haven’t gone to that extreme, I have currently found myself as the family member trying to get help for an addicted, self-destructive loved one. A place no one ever wishes to find himself in, yet sometimes we must take the steps to help those  that we love dearly get the help they so desperately need.

This relative of mine is constantly on my mind, which is beginning to hinder my well-being in the form of physical stress, emotional pain and stress, and is distracting me from my daily routines and my work. Care giving is NOT for the faint of heart and takes its toll on every part of our being. Up until recently, I was unaware of how many caregivers are dealing with these same issues when caring for an aging loved one.

Here are some stats that just might surprise you:

  • There are 2.5 million older adults with an alcohol or drug problem
  • Six to 11 percent of elderly hospital admissions are a result of alcohol or drug problems — 14 percent of elderly emergency room admissions, and 20 percent of elderly psychiatric hospital admissions
  • Widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the U.S.
  • Nearly 50 percent of nursing home residents have alcohol related problems
  • Older adults are hospitalized as often for alcoholic related problems as for heart attacks
  • Nearly 17 million prescriptions for tranquilizers are prescribed for older adults each year. Benzodiazepines, a type of tranquilizing drug, are the most commonly misused and abused prescription medications

My first question after reading these statistics was “Why do older adults sometimes not get the specialized treatment that they need?” Here are a few reasons:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse is often difficult to detect in older persons — mistaking symptoms for signs of aging (Physicians receive very little education on substance dependence and misdiagnosis is frequent)
  • Addicted elderly are often isolated from loved ones — they may hide their use — or it is perceived to be “one of their few pleasures in life” Often there are multiple health care providers and multiple medications — difficult to see the addiction

So, with all that being said, what can I do as a caring loved one to help these precious souls?

Clinical research shows that older adults with late onset addiction respond just as well to treatment as do younger patients. Experts tell us that we should proactively sit down with the older adult suspected of alcohol or drug abuse to assess the current situation. Be gentle, but also to be direct and specific. We should avoid being judgmental. They may be defensive, make excuses and tell you it’s not your business…but that’s just another manipulative behavior associated with addiction. If at all possible, communicate your concerns with their physician. They are often unaware of addictive behavior or multiple medications from different physicians.

If a problem is identified during all of this, appropriate treatment should be sought. Older addicted adults often have special treatment needs so professionals should be consulted.

Here are some warning signs to look out for when assessing any addictive situation:

  • Occasional slurred speech
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Unkempt appearance reflecting poor personal hygiene
  • Increased complaints of insomnia
  • Frequent health complaints without evidence of medical problems
  • Lying about drinking habits
  • Increased frequency of drinking
  • Irritability and mood instability when not drinking
  • Unexplained bruises and repeated falls
  • Black outs
  • Signs of withdrawal — such as tremors — when not drinking
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression, anxiety and mental health problems
  • Hiding alcohol or pills
  • Discomfort when confronted about drinking or drug use behaviors

This may seem like an overwhelming situation, but there is help. No circumstance is too “out of control” to warrant help. Think of yourself as one who has been placed in the lives of these loved ones to “protect and to serve.”

It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through; yet knowing that my loved one is getting the help they need assures me I’ve done the right thing.

Susan Avello is the Vice President of Network Development at Aging Info, USA.

Marla Levie, BSW, MA, President and Founder of Focus on Aging, has successfully been providing marketing consulting services to the elder care market and to other service-related professions in the Chicago area for over 20 years. Use the contact tab to email Marla for additional information about her services.

6 Responses to “Addictions and the Elderly: Crisis Intervention”

  1. Pat on

    Thanks for your article Susan & Marla for sharing it; A great resource for family members is Al-Anon. I have worked closely with many family members who found this support group very helpful!-Pat

    • Marla on

      Pat: Thanks for bringing up Al-Anon. It is a life-saver for family members dealing with all types of addictions including drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.

  2. b on

    This is a wonderful reminder of a families responsibility. While aging parents do not want nor need to be treated like children (the term “when children become the parent” will really set me off) an addicted aging person needs help. I think that many times the children feel that they cannot change anything. You have pointed out in a helpful way that it is never too late. Thank you.


  3. Bonnie Joffe on

    Thanks for this valuable information. I have a website called targeting baby boomers and seniors in the Souther New Jersey community. The goal is to offer resources, solutions and valuable information for the baby boomers and their aging parents. It is also my goal to bring awareness about Seniors who may be in crisis and how we, as baby boomers can make sure we know the signs of any crisis how we can help. I look forward to reading more of your blogs!


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

Protected by WP Anti Spam