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Survey finds public disconnect in awareness of senior substance abuse

September 25, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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An online survey commissioned by Caron Treatment Centers, which earlier this year developed a specialized treatment prorgam for seniors, finds gaps in adults' knowledge of substance use dangers for their aging parents.

According to the Harris Poll survey of more than 1,000 adults ages 35 to 50 with a living parent, step-parent or parent-in-law age 60 and older with whom they have regular contact, significant numbers of the younger adults don't recognize problems such as anxiety, sleep difficulties and recurring accidents as possible signs of substance abuse. This is the case despite the fact that 84% of adults in the survey stated they'd be able to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse in their parent.

In addition, 83% of respondents said they trusted the professionals managing their parent's health to identify these signs, although other data show that more than 40% of primary care physicians have cited difficulty in discussing possible substance abuse with patients.

“Most doctors are well intentioned, but unfortunately we cannot rely on them alone to manage their patient's care,” Caron chief clinical officer David Rotenberg said in a Sept. 24 news release. “A typical patient in our senior program has been prescribed medication from multiple doctors. The doctors may not know this and may not think to ask the patient.”

The survey found that 44% of adults do not talk to their aging parent about their health. Also, only 18% check to ensure that their parent is taking medications, and only 14% pick up or refill medications for their parent.

The number of adults ages 50 and older who meet criteria for a substance use disorder is expected to double by 2020, the National Institutes of Health reports.