Enjoying the Empty Nest | Therapy & Emotional Support for Older AdultsPat Fontana
Parents naturally want to raise their children to be successful and independent. Then, one day, the last child leaves the house and the parents become “empty nesters.” Many celebrate that day, enjoying their new freedom and lifestyle. However, some are challenged with adjusting and may even find themselves dealing with unexpected consequences like loneliness, feeling a sense of having a lack of purpose, or other stressors that can make this stage in life challenging. Unfortunately, some older adults may turn to alcohol and prescription medications to help them deal with these new stressors.
Baby Boomers Aging
Older adults are in the second-largest age group, the Baby Boomers. Their children make up the largest age group, the Millennials. Baby Boomers were born from about 1946 to 1964. By 2030, everyone in this group will have turned 65. As this group has aged, their children have aged out and moved out. Most Baby Boomers should be enjoying the empty nest at this point in their lives. There are many who are anxious and uncertain about their new life structure, though. They are part of a growing public health concern among older adults.
Prescription Medication Misuse
Older adults experience the misuse of prescription medications at growing rates. Non-medical use of prescription drugs among older adults has been estimated to have increased from 1.2 percent (911,000) in 2001 to 2.4 percent (2.7 million) in 2020, which is a 100 percent increase. The increase may be because of the sheer size of the population or it could be a result of the fact that Boomers are a little more accepting of experiences with both prescription medications and illicit drugs.
These older adults, the empty nesters, also tend to be prescribed more medications than other age groups and to use more over-the-counter medications. They may be more sensitive to even smaller amounts of medications because of their slower metabolism and elimination processes. They tend to experience more pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, and insomnia than other population groups as well.
One study found that up to 11 percent of women over the age of 60 misuse prescription medications. Another found that about 25 percent of older adults use prescription psychoactive medications with a potential to be misused or abused. In addition, the combination of alcohol use and medication misuse has been estimated to affect up to 19 percent of older Americans.
Older adults do not typically intend to misuse prescription medications. Given the added stress and anxiety of living alone, possibly even being isolated, combined with the physical and mental challenges faced by people naturally as they grow older, this unintentional prescription misuse may progress when an older adult continues to use the medication for its desirable effects, without understanding the potential consequences.
Tolerance and physical dependence can also develop when older adults take psychoactive medications such as benzodiazepines. Older adults are more likely to be prescribed opioid analgesics for pain and central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines for sleep disorders and anxiety.
Early Intervention Key to Prevention
For older adults who want to spend the rest of their lives enjoying the empty nest, therapy and emotional support can provide the answer. Recognizing the early signs of medication misuse and abuse among older adults and providing that early intervention and support is key to preventing and treating medication and alcohol abuse. Working with older adults to screen them for substance misuse is the first step. Integrating medical and physical health, along with behavioral health solutions can help fully address this growing problem.
Older adults and their families should be aware of the signs of possible substance abuse, including physical symptoms such as increased tolerance to medication, blackouts, injuries, and cognitive impairment. Psychiatric symptoms often include anxiety, depression, mood swings, and sleep problems. The empty nesters and their family members should also be aware of social symptoms, including financial, legal, or family problems.
Awareness and Support
There is help for older adults struggling with their new life and with the unexpected consequences of prescription misuse. Caregivers can become more aware of the signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety, and medication abuse. Guidelines for keeping older adults safe are very much like those for all age groups.
Follow the directions for medication use, and only use the correct dosage for the prescribed amount of time. Make sure the prescribing physician is aware of all medications that have been prescribed or that are taken over the counter. If a medication seems to no longer be working, do not take more than prescribed. Communicate the issues with the physician who may be able to adjust the prescription so that it is more effective but still safe. Also, make sure that older adults are not being prescribed potentially addictive medications from more than one physician and make sure all medical providers are communicating with one another.
It is important to get the therapy and emotional support necessary to overcome a possible addiction to alcohol and medications. These strategies can help older adults identify the underlying causes of their issues and develop healthier ways to cope, as well as find ways for enjoying their new lifestyle.
Help is Here for Older Adults
At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we offer the therapy and emotional support you need to overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol, at any age. For older adults struggling with prescription medication misuse in particular, leaving the condition untreated can create more difficult complications for the future. It is critical that older adults are evaluated so that we can address those challenges before more serious health problems develop.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners, Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno involve family and treatment professionals in the evaluation process whenever possible to gather valuable information about you and your addiction. We can then arrange for testing that can help more effectively address any co-occurring disorders, including psycho-educational testing, neuropsychological testing, and psychiatric or medical evaluations. Call our Miami team today at 786-452-7352 to learn more and arrange an evaluation.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.