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Many mistakenly believe that drug misuse or abuse is a problem of the younger generation. The fact is that Americans age 65 and older make up 13% of the population but consume about one third of all prescription drugs. Older individuals also take more potentially addictive medications than any other age group.


A study in "Annals of Epidemiology" projected that the number of people age 50 and older abusing prescription drugs could increase over the next 20 years from 911,000 in 2001 to almost 2.7 million by 2020.


One of the difficulties in diagnosing drug misuse or abuse in the elderly is that some of the symptoms of abuse such as: irritability, confusion and forgetfulness are dismissed by friends or family members as normal signs of aging. Another hurdle in successfully diagnosing drug abuse is that many abuse and misuse symptoms are also on the list of possible side effects of the prescription themselves.


So what can be done to help prevent drug abuse and misuse?


Here are the top three ways you can help prevent an elderly family member or loved one from misusing or abusing prescription medications.


1.        Get involved

Often symptoms of drug misuse and abuse are subtle and take a watchful eye to recognize. Spending quality time with your friend or loved one will allow you to get to know the patterns in their daily life. By knowing what is 'normal' for them, activities, eating and sleeping habits, etc., you will be more aware when something is amiss.


2.        Get the list

When possible accompany your family member or loved one to the doctor and pharmacy. Ask them to print a list of medications, their normal side effects, and possible contraindications with OTC medications. Go over the list in detail and make sure that your family member or loved one understands the proper dosage for their medication.


3.        Address emotional issues

Often the underlying reasons for drug misuse and abuse stem from untreated emotional disorders including depression, loneliness, and isolation. We are being designed to be in relationship with others this is a fact that does not change with age. Make a point to spend one on one time with your family member or loved one when possible. If physically interaction is not possible due to scheduling or location make daily phone calls to check in and see how they are doing.


If you suspect your elderly family member or loved one of misusing or abusing their medication it's important to contact their physician immediately. Look for alternatives to pain medications that are non-habit forming. Many insurance plans cover abuse counseling and are now offering assistance to senior specifically.


For information on programs and assistance visit the following websites:


Another great resource is Synergy HomeCare. We have many services that could help aid in the prevention of medication abuse and misuse. Our trained caregivers can provide medication reminders to ensure medication is taken properly. Daily visits from our caregivers can help reduce depression and loneliness both leading causes of medication abuse and they can help alert you to the first signs of trouble. Contact us today to find out more!

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