Drug misuse

Surprising but true: Adults over age 65 are candidates for drug overuse and abuse. Drug abuse is not common among elders. And it is often unintentional. But the misuse of prescription drugs poses exceptional dangers.

Older adults are prescribed more drugs than any other age group. Roughly 80 percent of those over age 65 have multiple chronic conditions. These health issues can be emotionally, socially and physically challenging. Drugs are one way to cope. Hearing, vision, and memory problems also contribute to unintentional mix-ups in drug use.

The top three categories of the most commonly misused and addictive drugs are:

  • More than 40% of older adults experience chronic pain. Opioids are frequently prescribed. Typically, these drugs create a pleasant state of euphoria. This may lead to the desire to take more, or to take them longer than necessary for the pain. Opioid use increases the risk of confusion, falls, fractures and delirium.
  • Tranquilizers are often prescribed to address anxiety. They can also be used for sleep problems. Their calming effect can lead to cloudy thinking, slower reflexes and unsteady walking. This increases the risk of falls and can make dementia symptoms worse.
  • These medications promote alertness and energy, and can bring on euphoria. They put the heart at risk, however, by increasing blood pressure and heart rate.

If your loved one is taking any of these potentially addictive drugs, watch for signs of trouble:

  • The prescription running out early. This may indicate overuse.
  • Multiple prescribing doctors or pharmacies. This is especially common with opioids.
  • A sudden increase in problems with balance, sleep, and/or memory. These can be side effects of the medications themselves, or signs of drug misuse.

If you’re concerned, ask the prescribing doctors to each do a review of all prescription and over-the counter-drugs.