For months now, we’ve seen statistics about older adults and COVID-19. But older adults aren’t just statistics. They are people who may be struggling to process the news that their lives are at risk.
The first Saturday in May is Join Hands Day. Its purpose is to bridge the gap between younger and older generations through volunteering. An example of this would be youth reading aloud to nursing home residents—which now, of course, would be done through video.
This day is especially important right now not only because nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19. The way this crisis was initially framed as “only” affecting older adults and people with chronic illness shows how much our society devalues those populations. Rather than respecting their life experience and knowledge, we often seem to consider them expendable.
Even before this crisis, older adults had high rates of Substance Use Disorders. Widowers over 75 had the highest rate of Alcohol Use Disorders in the United States. Rates for alcohol-related hospitalizations in older adults were similar to rates of hospitalization for heart attacks. Older adults were prescribed almost 17 million benzo prescriptions per year.
And now with social distancing and constant distressing news about their risk level, older adults may use substances at increased rates. Substances also affect people differently as they age. People may use the same amount as they did when they were younger, but get more intoxicated.
But Substance Use Disorders in older adults are very often overlooked or misdiagnosed as signs of aging. It’s important, especially now, not to ignore the symptoms of a Substance Use Disorder in either yourself or an older family member. The World Health Organization released a fact sheet about alcohol and COVID-19 saying that alcohol increases the risk of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
ARDS is one of the most severe complications of the virus. If older adults are already at high risk of getting severely ill, we don’t want them to be at higher risk because everyone around them (or they themselves) wrote off the signs of a Substance Use Disorder.
Even if you can’t volunteer for Join Hands Day this Saturday, it’s a good time to check in with an older adult in your life. Being bombarded by news that a population you are a part of is at high risk for death by a very contagious virus is overwhelming, to say the least. Knowing that the people in your life see you as worthy of respect and care—even if the world may sometimes seem to say otherwise—can do a lot for mental health.
If you are an older adult struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help available. TruHealing Centers is open and here for you during the pandemic. Each of our facilities across the country is receiving hospital-grade sanitization to ensure that you are safe getting the treatment you need. Our staff will empower you to build a life free from substances. To find out more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.