Each year I spend a few hours of my New Year’s Day at my grandfather’s house in Philadelphia. Most of my family shuffle in and out at various times throughout the day. He and my grandmother live on Broad Street in the heart of South Philly. To the unfamiliar readers, this is prime party real estate for New Year’s Day. In the City of Brotherly Love, we have something called “The Mummer’s Day Parade.” To some this is celebrated as unique to our city and its culture. To others it is somewhat frightening. Wherever you sit, if you’re a Philadelphian you are most likely roaming the city streets, spending time at various open house parties – and of course, many are drinking to excess.
I only see my grandfather once or twice per year. That’s certainly not enough, I’ll admit. Part of the
reason is being too busy. Partly, it’s because the situation is easier to ignore. Either one is a poor excuse.
Everytime I see my grandfather, he is drunk. It has been this way for as long as I can remember. It saddens me to witness this – and it’s just twice per year. To most of my other family members, it’s accepted. He’s set in his ways and things will never change. The truth is, I believe that statement. And that thought makes me feel hopeless.
Too often, our elderly are forgotten and dismissed. Sure they’re often cared for by their children, but mostly cared for in the same way a nurse would care for a patient. We make sure they eat well. We help them get around. We run their errands. In my case, I carry my grandfather up his stairwell twice a year.
But this level of caring isn’t nearly deep enough. We need to care for them as we would with anyone we love, indiscriminate of their age or lifelong habits. We need to be open to teaching them, and not dismissive.
Our elderly are not “old dogs.” They are capable and often willing to learn new tricks.
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Alcohol and prescription drug problems, among adults 60 and older is one of the fastest growing health problems facing the country. Yet, the situation remains underestimated, underidentified, underdiagnosed, and undertreated.
According to the
Health care providers tend to overlook alcohol or drug problems among older people, mistaking the symptoms for dementia, depression, or other problems common to older adults. Older adults are more likely to hide their alcohol or drug use and less likely to seek professional help. Many relatives of older individuals with substance use disorders, particularly their adult children, are living in denial or ashamed of the problem and choose not to address it.
Even in elderly care facilities, the problem is overlooked and undertreated.
According to statistics from University of Pennsylvania Health System, 2.5 million older adults are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and nearly 50 percent of nursing home residents have alcohol-related problems.
Not only are the symptoms of elderly alcoholism and drug abuse often confused, the effects of drinking and substance abuse are exacerbated by a faster metabolism process. Our seniors become impaired much easier and faster than younger adults.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the American Geriatrics Society, people 65 or older are engaged in risky drinking if they consume more than seven alcoholic drinks per week or more than three drinks on a single day. It is highly recommended that the single-occasion drink limit should be no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women.
For all of these reasons, we need to stop dismissing our elderly. Let’s not shut them out and push them in. Let’s open our minds and open our doors. It is important to provide age-specific care to the senior population that will address their issues with a personalized approach. With the proper treatment, seniors can recover from addiction and build a strong community of support through 12-step programs coupled with appropriate therapeutic and medical support as needed.
After all, it should be noted that older men and women experience the highest rates of recovery of any age group following treatment. So we really just need to help our aging loved ones get to that point without dismissal or ignorance. We have to help restore their lives. The Golden Years, for many is the greatest period of life.
I think I’ll give grandma a call and ask her if I can drop by the next time my grandfather is sober. It’s been too long for me, or any of us, to let him go forgotten and dismissed.
Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat offers a full continuum of care including: Acute Medical Detoxification, Rehabilitation, Residential, Partial Hospitalization and Recovery Residences.
At Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat, we understand how to treat and care for the older adult community, with our specialized Prime of Life track. If you or a love one wants to restore a life, the time is now, and it is just one phone call away.