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The Dangers of Opioid Misuse For Older Americans | Generations Home Care

Before COVID-19, America struggled in the grip of a different medical emergency. For almost twenty years, the opioid crisis has ravaged America, leading to thousands of deaths.  This crisis has impacted people across all walks of life, including America’s seniors. 

Opioid Misuse Prevention Day on August 30 marks an opportunity to reflect on the proper use of prescription opioids. The COVID-19 crisis makes this especially important, as social distancing and isolation mean that seniors have less access to the crucial support systems, which can help prevent addiction or overdose. With the barriers to care that stay at home orders and restricted services create, proper medication use has never been more critical. 

Prescription Opioids Present Potential Risks

In the past twenty years, the number of prescription painkillers prescribed in America has quadrupled. Though many opioid deaths are a result of non-medical use, the danger of prescription drugs is real. In fact, almost a third of all opioid overdoses in 2018 were due to prescription drugs. In 2018, 15,000 people lost their lives to a prescription opioid overdose—about 41 people a day

The effect of this crisis on seniors, in particular, is stark. Chronic pain is common among older adults. For many seniors, opioid pain medications may be the best treatment. In some cases, existing medical concerns make the side effects of some non-opioid painkillers especially dangerous for seniors. NSAID painkillers in particular can have dangerous side effects for older adults. However, the unique pain management challenges seniors face make it even more important to use opioids with care. In 2015, almost 125,000 older Americans were hospitalized for opioid-related diagnoses. The number of opioid-related emergency room visits among people over the page of 65 doubled from 2010 to 2015. 

Aside from misuse, prescription opioids can present other challenges for seniors. As our aging metabolisms change, the way our bodies process medicine begin to differ. Currently, there is a shortage of research as to how painkillers may react differently for older people. Aside from the impact of our bodies getting older, the fact that many seniors routinely take multiple prescriptions means there are more opportunities for an adverse drug reaction to occur. Even proper use of opioids in older adults can lead to falls, fractures, and other serious side-effects. Having a loved one or caregiver in the house to monitor a senior taking prescription opioids can provide a safety net. A reaction or side-effect from properly-administered medicines can be serious, but a caregiver can catch the warning signs early. 

Seniors are also not immune to addiction. If you or an older person in your life is struggling with opioid addiction, get help immediately. As isolation is a common factor in addiction, caregivers can also provide social support and companionship.

Opioid Misuse Can Take Many Forms

When most people think of opioid misuse, their first thought will be of overuse. It’s undeniable that opioid pain medications can run the risk of addiction when improperly managed. But on the other side of the coin, fear of addiction may also cause prescribers and patients to avoid using medications that would provide effective and safe pain relief. In fact, seniors are less likely to receive an opioid prescription than younger people, even when they need it. 

Furthermore, seniors often underreport their pain and thus are not properly treated for it. As symptoms continue without treatment, acute pain can become chronic pain. Fear of addiction or the negative side effects of opioids can prevent seniors from seeking out the medication they need. 

As a senior, managing pain can present unique challenges. They must navigate the possibility of adverse drug reactions and the prevalence of chronic pain. In-home caregivers can prompt and remind their clients to take their medications as prescribed and monitor their side-effects. With someone to keep an eye out for the signs of side effects or addiction, seniors can feel more empowered to seek out the treatment they need. A caregiver can also handle the everyday tasks which might otherwise create physical and emotional stress. Caregivers do all they can to make life a little easier for seniors living with chronic pain. 

About Generations Home Care

Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.

Our caregivers are trained in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.

Our Specialty Services Include:

  • Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
  • Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
  • Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
  • Veteran’s connection to care program.
  • Live-in services and couples care.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.

About the author - Josh Friesen

Multiple Prescriptions May Be a Risk for Seniors Pain Management Presents Complications For Seniors