The elderly potentially face a wide range of daily struggles and life challenges that are not shared by the younger population. The aging process results in slow physical deterioration, which can lead to increased risk for a variety of health issues. Often, in the later stages of life, mental and cognitive decline occurs as well. By living a healthy lifestyle, good nutrition, and staying active and engaged, senior citizens can reduce age related symptoms and continue to live happy and healthy lives. Unfortunately in America, there seems to be a national mindset that the solution to health problems comes in the form of a pill. America composes only 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 80% of the world’s prescription drugs. This trend appears to be especially true within the elderly population, and seniors are being overmedicated with highly addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications at alarming rates.
The Facts About Overmedication in the Elderly
There is an epidemic in the elderly of overmedication and addiction to prescription drugs that is not widely publicized. Experts suggest that this is due to misdiagnosis and a general unwillingness to recognize the problem for what it is. People just seem to assume that medication comes with the territory when relates to the elderly. For whatever reason, we seem to be better able to recognize addiction when it comes to younger people, but brush off prescription drug use as par for the course when it comes to the elderly.
The truth, however, lies in the statistics, and we must view the problem for what it really is. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports the following:
- Over 7.5 million older adults are considered to have a drug or alcohol problem. The vast majority are addicted to prescription drugs, alcohol, or both.
- The highest rate of alcoholism and pill-popping is found among widowers over 75 years old.
- Over half of senior citizens that live in nursing homes are considered to be overmedicated on some addictive prescription medication.
- Out of our 40 million seniors, 17 million, almost half, are prescribed some kind of tranquilizer drug. One of the most common are benzodiazepines, which are extremely addictive and potentially very dangerous, especially when combined with other drugs or alcohol.
- In 2013, seniors received 8.5 million prescriptions for opiate based painkillers, an increase of 25% in that year alone. Today, it’s estimated that approximately 5 million seniors have a painkiller addiction. That is about 15% of the total senior population.
In regards to drug overdosing among seniors aged 55 or older, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports the following:
- The rate of those who received medical care for an overdose related to prescription drugs increased by over 45% from 2007 to 2011.
- Between 1999 and 2010, the prescription drug overdose death rate increased roughly 300%
Finding a Better Way to Help the Elderly
The statistics prove that overmedication and addiction are serious problems for the elderly. As a whole, this country has a deeply flawed approach to the way it views and treats pain, relying on highly addictive and dangerous opiate painkillers. This seems to hold especially true for the senior population. Instead of having prescription drugs be the go to solution for pain and any and all health issues, we must encourage our elderly population to try alternative options. Many issues can be helped with less addictive and dangerous over the counter medicines, holistic treatments, herbal and natural remedies, and lifestyle changes. It’s time for us to come together and take a stand for our elderly population, and help them live their golden years in better health and a higher quality of life.