Older adults face many health risks, but one of those that few families understand or watch for is abuse of prescription drugs. This silent danger can be difficult to spot and hard to address with your loved one, but doing so is vital.

What should you know about seniors and potential drug problems? And what can you do to protect your family member? Learn what you need to know.

Why Is the Risk High for Seniors?

While few seniors go out actively looking for illicit drugs, they do have a variety of prescription drugs readily at their disposal. Most older adults have multiple prescriptions, and they have health conditions which provide potentially troublesome pain or sleep medication meant to treat a particular problem. It’s easy for these drugs to become habit-forming — either in the body or in the person’s daily routine.

In addition to a steady supply of medications, aging adults also have body changes that make abuse easier than they realize. They may have developed a higher tolerance for pain or other medication, leading them to take higher dosages. On the other hand, changes in the body’s ability to absorb medication may mean that an older person gets addicted to a substance at a lower dosage than others.

What Can the Family Do?

The best way to help your older family member is to look for any signs of potential abuse. What sort of behaviors should you note? Here are a few:

Taking a drug for a longer term than the doctor prescribed
Taking a drug, particularly pain medication, when the person isn’t in pain
Using a drug that was prescribed to someone else
Using prescription pills with alcohol or mixing them with other similar drugs
Certainly, to recognize patterns such as these, family and caregivers must have a knowledge of what prescriptions the senior has and what are the reasons for all of them. As you familiarize yourself with medications in the home and the appropriate uses, you can more readily see abnormal usage and potential abuse.

Many families benefit from ensuring that another family member attends all doctor visits with the elderly one. This way, others understand the intention of doctors’ prescriptions — especially for things like benzodiazepines or sleeping medication — and can help the senior to respect limitations and discontinue use when necessary.

What If There Is a Problem?

If you suspect that a loved one is abusing any medication, start by talking with them about it. Many older persons aren’t intentionally abusing drugs within their reach. They may not realize how or why they’re using a medication. In this case, you could arrange for them to use a timed pill dispenser, for example, to avoid overuse.

As well as talking to the senior directly, discuss your concerns with their doctors. Their primary doctor is often able to go through the patient’s medication list and remove some prescriptions that they don’t actually need any more.

If a senior has been taking a medication for many years, they may not even realize that stopping it is an option. Be cautious not to take anyone off a prescription drug without a doctor’s supervision, though.

Finally, if you still have questions and concerns, talk with a professional in the field of drug abuse and dependency. Remember that this is not something you or your family must face alone, and it’s not anyone’s fault. Getting help should be of primary importance.

At Fieldview at Holland, we specialize in aiding sufferers and their family get the assistance they need to lead a healthier, happier life free of any dependency. Call today to learn more about our in-patient and out-patient programs.