Drug Overdose in Older Adults
Drug use among the elderly
Many elderly adults take multiple medications for a wide range of illnesses and symptoms. Illnesses at an advanced age tend to be more aggressive and require more potent medications that are easier to become addicted to––and easier to accidentally overdose on.
Certain life events can increase the likelihood of drug abuse in the elderly, including:
- Being relocated to a nursing home
- Decline in physical or mental health
- Death of a family member or close friend
- Financial difficulty
Drug abuse in the elderly is unique in that the typical signs and symptoms of drug use—such as memory loss, lack of coordination, and depression—also occur naturally as the body ages. Medical professionals often fail to properly diagnose drug abuse in the elderly because they assume the patient’s complaints are just part of the aging process.
How overdoses occur in older adults
There are numerous ways an older adult can accidentally overdose. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at eliminating toxins and react to medications differently. Overdoses can occur if the elderly patient takes too much of a prescribed medication, or mixes the prescription with other medications or alcohol.
Commonly abused drugs
While any drug can be abused, certain drugs are more likely to be abused by the elderly than others. These include:
- Benzodiazepines (used to treat pain, anxiety, and insomnia)
- Opioids/narcotics (painkillers such as OxyContin or Vicodin)
Signs of drug abuse in older patients
The signs of drug abuse are different in older adults than in younger people. Here are some signs that may indicate a drinking or drug problem:
- Memory lapses/forgetfulness
- Changes in appetite
- Unsteady gait/lack of coordination
- Poor hygiene
- Increased isolation
How to help an elderly person struggling with drug abuse
If you or a loved one are an elderly person struggling with drug abuse, it’s never too late to seek help for addiction. Several agencies and organizations have resources dedicated to help the elderly with this growing problem, including: