Elderly Substance Use & Alzheimer’s Disease
Most of us don’t picture an elderly person when we picture someone with an alcohol or drug addiction. Yet as of 2018, nearly 1 million older adults (age 65 and over) live with a substance use disorder diagnosis.
If that older adult is also displaying signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it can be difficult to determine which behaviors connect to dementia and which connect to addiction.
At present, more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. While age is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, the disease is not a normal part of the aging process. Other risk factors for Alzheimer’s include family history and genetics and physical health. In addition, heavy, long-term substance use can cause brain damage that can increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
A few symptoms that can indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s include:
- Memory loss that impedes ability to perform daily tasks
- Difficulties with problem-solving or planning ahead
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion interpreting time or physical location (inability to retrace steps, as well)
- New challenges with speaking, reading, writing, and being active in conversation
Alzheimer’s & Addiction
What you may notice from this list is that these symptoms are also symptoms of alcohol or drug use, especially in seniors, whose brains are more sensitive to the chemicals in substances.
So what can you do if you suspect your elderly loved one has an addiction and is also suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s? The first step would likely be a medical detox. Once the substances are removed from the person’s body, it will be easier to observe their behavior and talk with them to determine the level of dementia present. Then, a healthcare professional will provide guidance in treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Help Is Available
It’s never easy to deal with addiction or Alzheimer’s. If you would like help determining your best course of action for a loved one, reaching out to us at Great Oaks can be a great first step. We can help you assess the situation, and we can give you guidance on choosing a treatment plan and location.
If you use substances heavily and may be suffering from dependence or addiction, get help now to protect yourself from brain damage that can lead to dementia. If substance use is treated early enough, many of the effects can be reversed, allowing you the best chance at aging with a healthy mind and body.