A new report issued by Dr. Dennis Dombrowski in his presentation at the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry shows that substance abuse is no respecter of persons. In an examination of elderly patients who entered a short-term geriatric treatment facility for psychiatric issues, more than ten percent had a drug or alcohol problem.
The study examined past data for nearly 1,800 individuals of retirement age who were seen for mental problems at the facility over the course of ten years starting in 2001. The group had an average age of 75, and a typical stay ranged about two weeks in duration.
Overindulging in alcohol was common among residents. In fact, nearly two-thirds reported having an alcohol problem. Other drugs reported by patients included sedatives, tobacco, and opiates.
The findings were limited by database restrictions which prevented knowledge of the main reason seniors sought psychiatric help. What was telling, however, was the fact that more than a quarter of those treated were suffering from depression in combination with some other form of ailment.
Dr. Dombrowski believes that the problem is probably even bigger than it appeared in the study. While every patient is asked to reveal substance abuse issues upon entrance to the treatment facility, not everyone feels comfortable admitting that sort of thing, nor does everyone make a correct self-diagnosis of what is considered to be problematic use of such substances.
Additionally, many members of the aging population go undiagnosed as compared to younger people with similar substance abuse problems simply because retirement and smaller social circles help mask the issue.
The loss of a spouse, feelings of inadequacy after retirement, and ailing health can leave the older generation more susceptible to depression, which may be tied to substance abuse.
Shedding light on this issue may help more seniors get the help they need without having to suffer in silence.