Monday, October 08, 2012

The Silver Tsunami

We know about the Boomer Bump. The huge demographic shift that is overtaking our economy and healthcare system is changing our family and social dynamics in many ways.  Our rapidly aging community means more caregivers of all ages and greater longevity but also more disability.

But that also means more drug addiction and more misuse of drugs and alcohol.

The tsunami for older adults who are using and misusing substances is tricky because we have social and cultural blocks to recognizing and addressing the issue. Can’t Gramma enjoy her glass of wine? Why should Grampa be in pain if his doctor is OK with giving him prescriptions? If the doctor says it’s OK, what’s the big deal?

But it is a big deal because we are seeing huge increases in the number of people in their 60’s as first time users of marijuana and cocaine. I know, seems crazy right? But Gramps is not down on the corner scoring the stuff from some kid, he’s buying it at the senior center and in the assisted living center lobby, and it comes right to his door in the senior high-rise.

And the numbers compound when you consider that 10,000 people turn 65 everyday in the United States.

We know that alcohol and drug use increase with stress and this is the group who are facing endless caregiving. Being a family caregiver is no longer a 12 to 18 month task while someone progresses thru a serious illness. Better healthcare means that caregiving will go on and on and on and, well, who would deny someone in that situation some wine, or some Valium or some Ambien or if you are exhausted, a little cocaine?

Most folks over 60 have an average eleven medications prescribed for them by an average of three doctors. The most prescribed medications for seniors are Benzodiazepines: Valium, Zanex, Ambien etc. They are central nervous system depressants. And highly addictive. And they mimic the symptoms of dementia—so family, and even physicians, can be fooled.

Opiates are prescribed for pain. But chronic use can actually lower one’s pain threshold. Chronic opiate use—with prescribed medications—can lead patients to feel more pain—so then it seems natural to ask for and take more and stronger pain meds.

Caregivers of people with chronic illness are living with huge unspoken resentment and grief. It’s not what they imagined retirement to be. Where is the fun? Where is the adventure they worked so hard to afford?

So why not some wine or one of those new drinks? Boomers who may have used pot in their 20’s and gave it up for work and family often romance the idea of being able to use pot again after retirement. But the pot they are buying today is not what they smoked in college. It is much stronger and laced with coke and speed and other drugs.

There are now specialized treatment programs and even inpatient services for new addicts over 60. And we can expect to see many more folks from the Silver Tsunami in our Twelve Step groups as well. 

No comments: