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Tips for Avoiding Incidental Drug Abuse in Seniors

Written by Dana Larsen
 about the author
2 minute readLast updated February 24, 2016

The amount of drugs prescribed in the United States is quickly rising. With this trend comes an increase in the occurrence of prescription drug abuse and misuse, especially among the aging population. We might not typically associate substance abuse with seniors, but some estimates show that 12-15% of older Americans abuse prescription drugs. Here are some things to look for and ways to help you or your loved one stay organized to prevent the misuse of medications.

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Tips for avoiding incidental drug abuse

Aging adults are at a high risk for prescription drug abuse for a number of reasons. Americans aged 65 and older make up 13% of the U.S. population, but they often take more than one medication simultaneously for a prolonged period, making it easy to falter in proper usage. Interactions between drugs may lead to unintended side effects, including dependence on one or all of the drugs.

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Changes in hormone levels and a decline in physical ability during old age can cause many to seek comfort in prescription drugs, most commonly opioids (used to control pain) or benzodiazepines (used for anxiety, panic attacks, or insomnia). Both of which have a high potential for addiction.
As patients build a tolerance for a certain drug over time, they will tend to ask for a stronger dosage. Meanwhile, a dosage that is appropriate for a younger person may prove to be difficult to handle for someone who is older. As the body’s metabolism slows down with age, accumulation of medicines in the body could result in addiction.
The potential consequences of drug abuse in seniors are profound. They include, but are not limited to:
  • Cognitive problems and dementia
  • Depression
  • Falls
  • Loss of interest and motivation
  • Low attention span
  • Respiratory failure
  • Overdose deaths
In order to avoid these outcomes, seniors should take certain precautions when starting a new prescription, including:
  1. Use of a pill organizer to help keep track of dosage and pill scheduling. For loved ones with dementia, a  pill dispenser may also be helpful.
  2. Ensuring that a person’s healthcare providers are awareof all current medications before they prescribe a new drug.
  3. Monitoring and logging the body’s reactions to any new drug and scheduling follow-up appointments after starting a new medication to discuss these reactions.
  4. Most importantly, adhering to the instructions of use and correct dosage for specific medications.
These tips can help you come up with a system that works best for your loved one in order to stay on track.


Meet the Author
Dana Larsen

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