A Dose of Reality for Seniors and Caregivers

In 2016, more than 4,000 Wisconsin residents aged 55 or older were hospitalized for opioid dependence or prescription opioid poisoning. Last year, there were almost 1,000 emergency ambulance runs on Wisconsin residents aged 55 or older for suspected, unintentional opioid overdoses. And the risk for family members and caregivers is high for this population as well, since more than 70% of people get painkillers from friends and family.

If you suspect you or the senior under your care is at risk

If you are over 55, or notice that an adult in your life over 55 years of age has begun losing interest, has become withdrawn, depressed, hostile or fatigued for no reason, you may think it might be part of the aging process. But many of these behaviors can also be signs of drug related problems.

Here are some signs that could mean a person over 55 is at risk:

  • Appearing over sedated, disoriented or impaired
  • Poor balance or unsteady gait
  • Requesting early refills
  • Reporting that their medications have been lost or stolen (particularly if this occurs more than once)
  • Poor hygiene or disheveled appearance
  • Appetite changes
  • Mood swings or major personality changes
  • Increased isolation
  • Demanding narcotic drugs at visit to the doctor
  • Apparent doctor shopping

What seniors and caregivers can do

  • Understand the risk factors for abuse of painkillers: improper use, depression, anxiety
  • Talk with the seniors under your care about the risks and dangers of prescription painkillers, especially opioids and narcotics
  • Encourage seniors to ask healthcare professionals for non-narcotic painkiller alternatives if prescribed
  • Let seniors know that you will stand by them and offer support
  • Store any prescription painkillers in a locked storage box, drawer or cabinet to limit access
  • Do not keep unused or unwanted prescriptions; dispose of them at a Drug Take Back location
  • Ask about senior caregiver/care facility policies on prescription drug policies and encourage administrators to share proper use and/or abuse of narcotic painkillers
  • Watch for signs of addiction

For professional caregivers and facilities

Senior living facilities, home health aides, residential care facilities, nursing homes, elder day care facilities and other professional senior care personnel and facilities can help raise awareness and educate about the risks of prescription painkiller abuse in many ways, including:

  • Understand and watch for the risk factors for abuse of painkillers: improper use, depression, anxiety
  • Talk with the seniors under your care about the risks and dangers of prescription painkillers, especially opioids and narcotics
  • Encourage seniors to ask healthcare professionals for non-narcotic painkiller alternatives if prescribed
  • Let them know that you will stand by them and offer support if they need it
  • Be sure that any prescription painkillers are stored in a locked storage box, drawer or cabinet to limit access
  • Encourage seniors not to keep unused or unwanted prescriptions; dispose of them at a Drug Take Back location
  • Review senior caregiver/care facility prescription drug policies and consider including proper use and/or abuse of narcotic painkillers
  • Train staff to look for signs of addiction with seniors, their family members and in co-workers

Resources