Friday, July 11, 2014

The Risks of Addiction for Caregivers

I’m preparing for a presentation at the National Substance Abuse Conference coming up in September and as I review my research on aging and addiction I thought that some of this information might be helpful to families in Cancer Land.

Caregiving is central to cancer care and also to the rapidly growing Boomer Bump. So as you consider your role --or the experience of family members who are your caregivers--you may want to think about some of this research about addiction and caregiving.

This information is also relevant if you will be involved in the care of someone who is aging. And that, of course, is all of us.

Senior addiction and caregiver relapse is a new pandemic. Caregivers of people with chronic illness can quite easily become addicted or suffer a relapse if they have earlier struggled with an addiction.

Caregivers have several key ingredients in the recipe for addiction: They are home, feel trapped, they may feel a lot of unspoken resentment (this is not the retirement they anticipated, or “I did not sign up for this.”)

Also caregivers are often shamed by being “sainted” (“Oh you are such a saint.”) so they can’t express the anger or resentment they feel when caring for a sick spouse. And they may have easy access to drugs and alcohol.

The most prescribed medications for seniors are the Benzodiazepines: Valium, Zanex, Ambien etc. (These drugs mimic the symptoms of dementia so an addiction can be missed in the patient and in the caregiver.)

Family and friends often ignore symptoms or will cut caregivers a break: “His wife has Alzheimer’s he deserves his drinks at night.” “She has to do all that physical care of her husband—yeah she needs to get her sleep.” And they may not be driving so they don’t face the natural interventions like car accidents or DWI.

 Furthermore adult children are not around and so they only see them on occasion. And an intervention may be avoided because it would mean that the adult children have to take over caregiving. This contributes to the likelihood of ignoring addiction or just saying, “Hey Mom try to drink a little less, Ok?”

There are certain key risk periods for older adult addiction onset or relapse:
Men or women at retirement.
Women when children move away.
When a spouse dies.
When a spouse has chronic dementia.

Consider this information as you talk as a family, when you suspect dementia, if you notice medication errors and when there is a family history of addiction of any kind.

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