Too Quick To Prescribe: How Drug Interactions May Be Mistaken For Dementia

Is It Dementia, Or Is It Drug Interactions: How Pharmaceuticals Can Masquerade As Dementia

As we age certain things take on a slightly more ominous tone: losing your keys, fumbling for a word or a name, forgetting an appointment. There is a moment in everyone’s life where these go from mere silly lapses and annoyances and change into bigger questions: is this it? Is my mind starting to go? Is this the day when it all starts to crumble, slowly, inevitably, leaving me eventually as an empty shell of a person unable to recall anything except the deepest memories in the furthest recesses of my mind?

It’s a terrifying thought, and for anyone who has witnessed symptoms like these in their parents or other elderly loved ones, it is heartbreaking.

But new research indicates that perhaps what we have commonly thought of as the depredations of aging might not be anything more than drug interactions. With a pharmaceutical “answer“ to every “problem” under the sun being relentlessly hawked 24 hours a day, we live in a medicated age like no other. And what is beginning to come to light is that oftentimes behaviors that are routinely ascribed to dementia in the elderly might actually be drug interactions that no one has considered.

A new book, “Not As Prescribed: Recognizing and Facing Alcohol and Drug Misuse in Older Adults,” by Dr. Harry Haroutunian takes a close look at these issues and more.

And some striking statistics come out of it. For one thing, Dr. Haroutunian cites statistics that say 17 percent of older adults, people aged sixty and up have an alcohol or drug problem. Which perhaps doesn’t sound like a lot until you compare that with the rest of the population, where there is only a 10 percent rate. The number of addicted older adults is expected to double to six million by 2020.

And then when you consider how many elderly people carry multiple prescriptions to an endless variety of drugs, the potential for interaction with alcohol and each other is astronomical. And as Dr. Haroutunian notes, many aging people face life changes and challenges that can lead to stress and depression, which can in turn make it easier to overindulge in alcohol or accidentally or deliberately misuse prescription drugs.

Dr. Haroutunian lays out a set of guideposts to help caregivers and family members navigate the turbulent waters of dealing with aging people who may be suffering from drug side effects rather than dementia. He describes:

• The differences between the symptoms of aging, polypharmacy (the use of four or more medications by a patient), and addiction
• Which prescription drugs and medical conditions can commonly appear to be dementia
• The difference between abuse and dependence, or misuse and addiction
• Tips to help caregivers talk with an older adult’s doctor about the need for and proper use of prescriptions

It’s a great read and tremendous support for anyone who is having to deal with an aging relative, even if they haven’t shown signs of addiction or dementia.

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