Vail Daily column: Watch for signs of alcohol abuse in seniors | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Watch for signs of alcohol abuse in seniors

Judson Haims
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Judson Haims

If your parent, neighbor or any person you care for were ill, you would do everything possible to help, wouldn’t you? When that same older person shows signs of having a problem with alcohol or prescription drugs, however, it is hard for most people to know what to do or say.

Substance abuse is not a problem isolated to the young. Alcoholism and the misuse of prescription drugs a life-threatening epidemic in older people. It is estimated that 70 percent of all older people who are hospitalized and up to 50 percent of nursing home residents have alcohol-related problems. Among older people there is reason for concern about mixing alcohol and drugs. Many prescriptions contain a sedative. Combining sedatives with alcohol can be deadly at any age and especially among older people.

The symptoms of drug and alcohol misuse may be difficult to recognize in senior citizens. Shaky hands and forgetfulness could be symptoms of aging or signs of drug or alcohol abuse. Alcohol use can contribute to balances issues, cognitive problems, delirium, depression and sleep problems.

These are some things to keep in mind as you prepare to discuss this issues with a loved one:

• Don’t talk to the older person when he or she is drinking. If evening is the usual drinking time, talk earlier in the day.

• Be gentle and loving. Avoid a confrontational style.

• Avoid the words “alcoholic” and “drug addict” since they can carry heavy negative stigma.

• Don’t dig up painful events from the past. Focus on the effects that the alcohol and prescriptions are having now.

• Keep in mind the person’s age and ability to understand. Instead of talking things out in one session, you may have to bring up the subject a little bit at a time.

• Be direct. Treat the person as an adult.

• Be specific. Present the facts in a straightforward manner, such as “I’ve noticed that you drink almost a full bottle of wine over the course of an evening,” instead of “You’re always drunk.”

• Talk about the effects of alcohol or drug use on whatever the older person cares about most — for example, the way their drinking effects their relationship with their grandchildren.

• Don’t worry if you don’t say things perfectly. The most important thing is that you express your concern with respect.

Whether you are taking prescription or over the counter medications, it is very important that you have an honest conversation with your doctor about the amounts of medications and alcohol you are consuming.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.