The Jewish Home Lifecare nursing home is starting a new program later this month geared towards patients suffering from both elderly ills and addiction issues. This unusual rehabilitation program is the first of its kind in the country. Traditionally, nursing home patients that have the complication of alcohol or prescription pill addiction are considered “undesirable admissions” and have been a population that nursing home communities have shied away from.
Why Elderly Addiction is Dangerous
Elderly adults often have addiction issues that go unnoticed. It can stem from a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse or come from a recent misuse of doctor prescribed pharmaceutical drugs. Alcohol abuse can be particularly dangerous because as a body ages it metabolizes alcohol differently. In addition, it can cause serious interactions with any medications that a senior may be taking. A general stigma surrounding the subject also prevents people from discussing the mental illness in the elderly that can come with substance abuse.
The Nursing Home Rehabilitation Program
This program will deal specifically with patients suffering from alcohol or prescription drug addiction. The nursing home decided that until the program is more developed it will not admit seniors with addictions to illegal street drugs. Jewish Home Lifecare hired a director and procured multiple grants to set aside forty beds in the nursing home for these patients. The facility hopes to treat as many as 480 addicted seniors per year. Medicare and Medicaid are expected to cover the costs of the program.
The elderly participants will get a thorough screening, individual and group therapy, participate in a twelve step program, and get counseling to prevent relapses. When they are ready to leave the facility, the nursing home will connect them with community programs and professionals to aid in the continuation of their recovery.
Challenges to the Program
The first question most skeptics have about the program is whether a twenty-five day stay is long enough to make progress? The director of the program believes that if the patient seeks outside community programs and help that the program will be long enough. Another major issue is family support. Some families are convinced that their loved one is simply too old to change their ways and as a result the family can be obstructive or indifferent to the treatment program.
One of the largest questions is how to treat seniors suffering from addiction while simultaneously helping them recover from other elderly ills, most of which require some level of pain management. Steve Wollman, the director of the new rehab program, has few illusions about the task. He has discussed the strategies necessary to wean seniors off of certain addictive substances while still treating their pain from other ailments. He has also talked about the additional training that the staff will need to deal with these issues.
Denial and evasion are the two most commonly seen tactics used by addicted seniors. If they are newly addicted they do not believe that they have a problem, or they think that because their doctor prescribed the medication it is okay. Seniors suffering from long-term addiction often have multiple doctors and pharmacies where they get their drugs, and most of the time the doctors are unaware that their patient is getting multiple prescriptions. But regardless of age, Mr. Wollman believes that anyone can recover from alcohol and prescription drug addiction if they want to and have the guidance.