Opioid Addiction in Senior Citizens

Individuals aged 65 and above are known to experience more chronic pain than the rest of the population. Reports state that at least 52.8% of them experience some sort of pain every 30 days. This pain can lead to a heightened risk of falls, issues with movement, trouble falling asleep, etc. In order to ease this pain, many senior citizens have turned to opioids.

The elderly population in America is growing dangerously addicted to opioid drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin. While deaths related to drugs is prevalent across all age groups, stats suggest that a large percentage of those deaths have been among people aged between 55 to 64.

As people age, physiological changes occur, which results in slower metabolism related to drugs and alcohol. Due to this, senior citizens experience strong effects of these drugs when compared to younger people. Since they are prescribed opioid drugs in higher quantities, the addiction level is higher, and so are the side-effects. Let’s take a look at some of these side-effects and what can be done to fight them.

Effects of Opioid Addiction in Senior Citizens

Despite being prescribed to help alleviate pain, opioid addiction can be severe among the elderly. In addition to opioids having effects on the mental health of senior citizens, such as dementia, depression, and cognitive impairment, it has several adverse effects on physical health as well. Some of those side-effects are as follows:

1. Nausea

When the body of an elderly person detects opioids in the blood, it causes a vomiting reflex, which is what makes nausea one of the most common side-effects of opioid consumption. At times it’s also due to the effect opioid has on the part of one’s ear that’s responsible for maintaining balance, or at other times, the effect it has on our gastrointestinal system. 

2. Urinary Issues

Opioid use can also lead to issues related to urinary retention, or the inability to empty the bladder properly or completely. When the drug isn’t used properly, it gets accumulated in the system, which in turn causes this problem. It could also occur due to the improper functioning of one’s kidney and liver. If this isn’t treated in time, it can lead to renal failure and injuries related to the kidney. 

3. Constipation

Almost 48% of the senior citizens using opioids suffer from constipation. Additionally, using laxatives to treat constipation isn’t seen as a good way to treat the condition because there isn’t enough research as of yet on how effective it is on constipation as related to the use of opioids.

4. Low Bone Density

Losing bone density and mass is already a pre-existing component of aging, making it particularly difficult for women post menopause. Consuming opioids is known to increase the risks related to osteoporosis as well. It interferes with the remodeling of the bones, thereby causing opioid-associated bone fractures and opioid-induced osteoporosis.

5. Respiratory Problems

Consuming opioids causes respiratory issues such as lower breathing rate and volume, affecting the ability of the lungs in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Irregular or a slower rate of breathing is particularly harmful, especially since the elderly already face reduced sensitivity to carbon dioxide while they sleep. 

How to Help a Senior Citizen Suffering from an Opioid Addiction?

There are certain symptoms that indicate opioid addiction among the elderly, such as the inability to decrease the consumption of opioids, using them longer than what the prescription says, bodily functions declining despite the increased or decreased doses of the opioid drug being taken, consuming it for reasons other than bodily pain, not enjoying social activities, and so on. 

If you see a senior citizen exhibiting these symptoms, a few things can be done to help. They are as follows: Give them relaxation techniques. Meditation works immensely in this regard, as it increases one’s pain threshold, thereby helping to diminish pain. Meditation classes or even meditation apps can be used. Self-hypnosis can work, too. Altering the pain perception leads to distraction, which can work in this technique. Numbing the part of the body experiencing the pain is a good trick as well.

Pain related to physical health can often amplify an elderly person’s mental health issues as well. Therefore, seeking therapy is a good option. Physical pain is often connected to depression and isolation. Hence, an experienced professional can use his/her pain management techniques, coupled with discussions about the patient’s medical history with the person’s other doctors, in order to come up with the best treatment possible.

When a senior citizen’s opioid addiction is related to pain in the area of post-operation or musculoskeletal issues, electrical nerve stimulation can serve as an effective method of treatment. The devices used for this treatment influence various receptors, thereby developing an analgesic effect. They also activate numerous sites in the brain stem and spinal cord that make use of pain-related receptors. 

If a senior citizen you know is showing signs of dependence or even exhibiting signs of true addiction, MAT, or medication assisted treatment, is incredibly helpful for patients of any age by slowly weaning a person off opioids in a safe way with the proper medications designed to help with the withdrawal process and diminish the harsh side effects that can come with stopping opioids.

In the end, regardless of the reason for opioid use, it’s easy to see why senior citizens are particularly susceptible to the dangers of opioids. If you have a senior in your life who is taking opioids, keep a closer eye out for the things I’ve discussed above and take the necessary actions in order to help keep your loved one safe.