As people get older drugs and alcohol can have a greater impact on their health, both physically and mentally. The effects of drugs might not be recognised as they could be mistaken for a mental health problem or just the effects of getting older. In turn older people might not be routinely asked about their drug and alcohol use by health care professionals. In addition to this older people may not want to discuss any drug problem they have because they are embarrassed.
How can drugs affect older people?
- Risk of falls and injuries
- Poor liver function
- Poor Memory
It’s thought that older people tend to misuse prescription and over the counter store bought medicines more than illegal drugs but this doesn’t mean that older people don’t use cannabis or heroin and other illegal drugs. We also know that some older people sell their prescription drugs perhaps to supplement their income. Because they get confused or have memory problems some older people may be taking too much or forgetting what they take which can result in accidental overdose or withdrawal symptoms.
There are different views of what age an older person might be – some services talk about over 50’s and others over 55 or 60. We do know that in terms of illicit drugs there is an ageing population of opiate (mainly heroin) users. We also know that the over 65 population uses over 1/3 of all prescriptions and that there is a good proportion of benzodiazepines and of opioid analgesics amongst these – both of which can cause significant problems.