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Why Are So Few Older Addicts In Rehab?

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Drug and alcohol abuse amongst the elderly is chronically under reported and under diagnosed.

Firstly, doctors seem especially reluctant to intervene or even to diagnosis abuse, even when evidence points towards its occurrence. Substance abusing seniors experience an increased risk of personal injury, and the combination of frail and brittle bones with the un coordination and intoxication of drug abuse leads to alcohol or drug induced falls, and resultant broken bones. Attending physicians who suspect the involvement of alcohol or drug use very rarely intervene, perhaps unsure of the treatment options available for seniors with drug abuse problems, and perhaps erroneously believing that there is little that can be done for the older drug dependent person; whatever the reason, professional medical intervention is the exception and not the rule.

Secondly, the perceived social stigma of addiction seems to strongly influence older people to remain silent and secretive about the extent of their use and abuse. Seniors, particularly older women, feel very embarrassed with their "weakness" and tend to feel that they should have known better at their advanced age than to allow an addiction to occur. Very concerned with embarrassment before family, friends and society, these older users prefer to remain silent, and as such are very unlikely to request help on their own. Most seniors in a drug and alcohol rehab facility for seniors are there at the behest of family.

Thirdly, families, like medical professionals, also seem reluctant to get involved. Public perception of abuse and the elderly is that at such a late stage in life, it's too late for rehab or other treatments. Families may also feel embarrassed at the addiction of an older relative, or conversely, may feel that allowing them to indulge is a kindness that helps offset the pains of aging. Family members, although in the best position to influence behavioral change, are too often reluctant for any number of reasons to insist on drug and alcohol rehab for seniors, or other appropriate treatment.

Lastly, because many of the symptoms of decline associated with drug and alcohol abuse are similar to some of the normal symptoms of aging, often the extent of the abuse is not recognized. Cognitive declines, gastro intestinal difficulties, anxiety, depression and other symptoms may be attributed to any number of other conditions that commonly afflict the elderly, and as such the abuse is allowed to continue unrecognized.

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Page last updated Aug 05, 2010

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