Am I Too Old For Rehab?


However old you are, there is a new, better life on the other side of alcoholism and drug addiction that you can grasp. It is never too late. Betty Ford, wife of US President Gerald Ford was 60 when she entered rehab – she went on to inspire millions with her recovery. There have been others who began their recovery at a much older age.

Age Is Not a Parameter

If your advanced age still allows you to abuse substances, gamble, drink heavily, and spend your days shopping online or scrolling through social media, then rehab will be able to help you move towards a more fulfilled way of living, free from addiction. Any talk of old dogs being unable to learn new tricks is simply denial at work (and you’re never too old for that either).

Rehab for Pensioners

At Castle Craig Hospital we regard advanced age as no barrier to admission to our addiction recovery program. Every patient is carefully assessed by our medical team and receives a personalised treatment plan that is designed to meet their individual needs. Since opening in 1988 we have successfully treated a large number of people at very advanced ages and also people with a variety of physical disabilities.

Addiction Is Increasing

As we are well aware, statistics show that substance abuse among the elderly is on the increase. People of advanced age today are those who grew up at a time when society was becoming more liberalised and alcohol and drugs for much of the population were for the first time an accepted part of the everyday social scene. The elderly we now see is more likely than the previous generation to have experimented with mood-altering substances in their youth and are thus more at risk of developing an addiction.  

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Why Are Older People at Risk?

The older age groups are more prone to addiction for a variety of reasons: 

  • They may have retired and find themselves less in demand and with less to do. 
  • They may struggle with the loss of daily structure and routine. 
  • They may have a growing number of medical conditions that cause pain, restricted movement, and general irritation. 
  • They may be regularly taking a number of prescribed drugs. 

Yet, the doctors who see them regularly may overlook the possibility of addiction because they are focusing on other conditions and may even exacerbate the problem by prescribing drugs that interact badly with, for example, alcohol. 

Is Rehab for Seniors?

It is understandable that older people may question their suitability for rehab. There are certain issues that may make it more difficult for an older individual to seek drug and alcohol rehab:  

  • They may not have funds or the means to borrow for the cost of rehab because they’re no longer working, or they may not have health insurance that covers rehab.  
  • They’re stuck in their old ways for so long that their tolerance levels are very high and they somehow have learned to function despite being physically dependent. 
  • A history of chronic relapse makes them feel they won’t be able to successfully complete treatment.  
  • They have a high level of shame and feel that any form of state funding for rehab would be better directed at the young. 
  • They are at a degree of infirmity where they believe that they would struggle with the physical and mental demands of following the treatment programme. 
  • It may be more difficult to identify when an older person has an addiction problem – 
  • They may have learned over the years to conceal or handle substances in ways that do not lead easily to detection – this can be especially the case with prescription medicines such as Valium. 

‘Eat, drink and be merry’ seldom works 

In some cases, older people may simply have taken a decision to live life to the full or beyond, until the grim reaper comes to call, or as Old Khayyam put it: 

Make the most of what we may yet spend 

Before we too into the dust descend 

Dust unto dust and under dust we lie

Sans wine, sans song, sans singer and sans end.”

(The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Edward Fitzgerald)

But sadly, such adventurous intentions often deteriorate miserably into brain damage, physical breakdown, and loneliness.  

Old For Rehab

Complications for People Over Sixty

The trouble is that when people, for whatever reason, find themselves abusing substances at an advanced age they are subject to an increased risk of complications when compared to younger people. These often include: 

  • Increased risk of domestic and road traffic accidents. 
  • More marked memory loss and mood alterations. 
  • Increased risk of unintended self-harm – falls, burns and the like. 
  • Isolation and loss of relationships. 
  • Overdose and use of incorrect substances due to forgetfulness and confusion.

Special Challenges for the Older Person

Consequences of addiction affect people regardless of their stage of life but increased age may exacerbate certain conditions because the body’s defences weaken, making rehab a more challenging prospect: 

  • Liver damage, immune system disorders, and certain forms of cancer become more likely as a result of substance abuse in the old. 
  • Brain damage and dementia appear to be linked to drinking and drug use among the elderly. 
  • Detoxification and withdrawal symptoms can be more painful and produce more side effects in the old. 
  • There is a greater likelihood of comorbidity with other serious medical conditions. 
  • Older people are more likely to become lonely and isolated leading to a greater incidence of mental disorders such as depression and suicidal ideation. In some cases, older people find it difficult to motivate themselves sufficiently to commit to the rigorous programme of change necessary for successful recovery. 
  • Continuing care after residential treatment and social support may be more difficult to arrange. 

Addiction in the Elderly May Go Unnoticed

Signs of addiction in the elderly may be more difficult to detect. Older people are more likely to use substances in order to self-medicate for physical or psychological ailments. Thus, it might not be obvious that an addiction is developing. Common signs of addiction in the elderly include: 

  • Memory problems or confusion 
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits 
  • Clumsiness and poor coordination 
  • Irritability and mood swings 
  • Indecisiveness and insecurity 
  • Feelings of depression 
  • Defensiveness when questioned 
  • Spending large amounts of money (on alcohol or gambling, for example). 
  • Repeating prescriptions more often than usual 
  • Avoiding doctor’s appointments 

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Treatment for Older People

Treatment for older adults can include community care such as individual counselling, daycare attendance at therapy groups, and involvement in self-help organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous. These remedies may not be suitable for all because some older people are held back by mobility, stigma, fear of detox, or denial issues. 

Residential Treatment

For some, their seniority may result in a high level of denial that can best be addressed in residential treatment following an intervention by family members. 

At Castle Craig we are used to welcoming older people into our treatment programme – we recognise their special needs but we also celebrate the unique contribution they make by virtue of their life experience, wisdom, and insights. Regardless of age, a newcomer is simply asked to bring the three essentials of successful therapy – honesty, openness, and willingness to change. Older people normally thrive by interaction in our standard programmes but they can also take advantage of the special arrangements we have in place for seniors such as: 

  • An individually paced treatment plan that takes full account of physical and psychological needs. 
  • A full assessment of medication, chronic pain management, and nutritional needs. 
  • A continuing care plan that takes full account of ongoing recovery and re-integration into an interactive community without shame and stigma. 
  • Introduction to self-help community members who are compatible in terms of age and background through similar life-changing experiences. 
  • Introduction to new interests and activities designed to reinforce a sense of purpose and meaning in life. 

If you have concerns about your own or someone else’s possible addictive behaviour, give us a call in complete confidence. It can sometimes be difficult to know what is the best way to handle a situation when you are worried about yourself or a loved one. We are always ready to talk and advise on the best way forward

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With a wealth of knowledge and services to help you regain control of your life, request a call-back from one of our professionals today. The choice you make today could change your life forever.

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