Aging and Addiction: A Growing Problem For Seniors

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The Good Soldiers and Baby Boomers are of very different mindsets and yet both generations are confronted with the daily challenges of aging and addiction.

An engaged crowd listened to a program Thursday morning inside Wilton Manors’ Pride Center that dealt with important issues faced by everyday seniors – aging and addiction.

“The problem is the medication issue. They can’t manage their medicine,” said Patrick E. Cavanaugh, a social worker with the Broward County Elderly and Veterans Services Division.

Cavanaugh cited statistics that twenty-five percent of new enrollees in assisted care facilities were the direct result of medication mismanagement. He introduced John Dyben from the Hanley Center at Origins as the program’s guest speaker, who made the case that America’s health care system is broken.

“Our health care system is broken,” Dyben said. “It is built to give doctors minutes with patients. Are they social workers or are they physicians?”

Dyben works in Origins, a West Palm Beach clinic for recovery, where he directs the baby boomer and older adult care. Dyben spoke of the issues he sees with patients over the age of 55. There are two generations in this group – baby boomers who are just entering their entitlement years and good soldiers who are from what has often been termed the greatest generation because of their involvement in World War II.

Dyben said Good Soldiers are more often prone to “suck it up” and refuse multiple medications for their need. Baby Boomers, on the hand, come from the sex, love and anything goes era, which embraced experimental drug usage.

“The generation you grew up in is a gigantic influencer,” Dyben said.

Dyben also stated that approximately five million people over the age of 65 had used an illicit drug. And prescriptions, for senior citizens, are much easier to obtain.

“A 25-year-old kid is going to have a much harder time getting Xanax (Alhprazolam) than you guys are,” Dyben remarked. The audience was stunned and soon began asking questions and relaying stories of their battles with aging and addiction. One man said after his recent open-heart surgery he was told to take 45 different medications.

“How do you do that?” he asked.

Another man, James Senior, a Fort Lauderdale financial advisor said he routinely sees guys who move down to South Florida from the North getting “sucked into the vortex” of problems.

Dyben, who travels the nation to lecture about addiction treatment, said everyone has an addiction to a mood altering substances whether it’s abstinence, beer with your pizza, or wine with your dinner. For some people it is no problem to their health, but for others it causes disability.

“They cannot stop,” Dyben said. “And right now there is an epidemic of substance abuse and addiction in the older adult American population.”

Dyben has worked for 10 years for Hanley Center at Origins. He said the West Palm Beach recovery treatment facility was opened in 1986 by former U.S. First Lady Betty Ford.


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