A study recently reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that older adults prescribed opiate painkillers after minor surgical procedures were 44% more likely to become “long term opioid users within 1 year” than those not given the prescriptions.

When was the last time one of your elderly parents had (for example) cataract surgery?  Or varicose vein removal?  For these and other common procedures referred to in the study, we might not even know what the doctor prescribes Mom or Dad afterward.  And will they know to ask the right questions about that pain prescription?  Even if they do, are they at risk?

On one side, we worry about our kids’ risk of drug addiction…  are we going to have to keep tabs on Mom and Dad as well?

We suggest the same preventive measures for both:  A careful discussion of risks.  Here’s an article from Huffington Post that discusses addiction risks elders should be aware of, and some signs that you might want to pay a little closer attention to what’s going on in Mom & Dad’s medicine cabinet.

Some risk factors:

More than five medications taken daily- both prescribed and over-the-counter supplements. Unknown drug interactions and side effects are commoner than we think.

Recent life changes such as loss of independence, bereavement, adjusting to retirement, medical problems and health challenges.

Past history of problems related to alcohol or drug use. People sometimes have periods of problem use in early life, then moderate or abstain while raising a family or pursuing a career.

Surgery and/or treatment for multiple health problems, which can often involve the prescription of painkillers or other potentially addictive medications.

The article notes that signs of drug/alcohol problems are sometimes similar to symptoms of age-related conditions. These can include frequent falls, loss of interest in appearance or lack of hygiene maintenance, sleeping all day, frequently misplacing items such as keys or a phone, disinterest in activities or social interactions.

Staying on top of what’s going on with an elderly parent- both their health and their emotional and social life- can help prevent many problems. It’s a good trade-off of scarce time and energy.