While seniors have always been a vulnerable subgroup of our population, the 21st century has spawned an entirely new batch of threats to protect them from. From con-artists to preventable diseases, here are three dangers to keep an eye out for.
In past centuries, swindlers have gained access to the elderly via the front door or the telephone. However, with 59% of seniors now using the internet, more and more con-artists are getting their foot in the virtual door.
The most common scams used against senior citizens include:
- Phony lottery and sweepstakes seeking upfront fees to enter or collect winnings.
- Impostors posing as representatives from Social Security and Medicare.
- Offers for free or discount medications or medical equipment.
- Credit card fraud and investment schemes.
Discuss such scams with your elderly loved ones and talk about how they can become a victim. Tell them how important it is not to automatically trust strangers — especially those seeking personal information and money. Caution them not to give out their credit card number online, to avoid investment offers (especially through unsolicited e-mail), and to be wary when dealing with individuals/companies from outside their own country. Offer to be a second set of eyes if they have any suspicions.
Though you may have never suspected it, the number of seniors with opiate addiction problems is on the rise. In fact, about 20% of seniors struggle with substance abuse. Older adults are at risk for opiate abuse, mainly because they take more prescription medications than other age groups.
Most seniors are becoming addicted after doctors prescribe high-dose opioids to treat chronic pain. While there’s a place for high-dose opioids — for short-term use after major surgery or to ease suffering at the end of life — it’s better for seniors to take non-addictive medications like Cymbalta or Neurontin for chronic pain. There are also non-drug treatments such as acupuncture, medical massage, or hydrotherapy.
Since the signs and symptoms of addiction can be misinterpreted as products of normal aging, it’s important to pay close attention to the behavior of older adults in your life. A person who is addicted to a prescription drug may:
- Demand narcotic drugs when visiting the doctor.
- Shop for doctors.
- Get a prescription for the same medication from two different doctors.
- Fill a prescription for the same medication at two different pharmacies
- Request early refills.
- Take more of a prescription medicine than they used to — or take more than is instructed on the label.
- Report that their medications have been lost or stolen (particularly if this occurs more than once).
- Make excuses for why they need a medicine
- Be uncomfortable or defensive when you ask about the medicine
- Store “extra” pills in their purse or in their pocket
- Sneak or hide medicine
- Appear over sedated, disoriented or impaired.
- Have major behavioral changes or mood swings.
If you believe an elderly loved one may have an addiction problem, you should intervene. Alert the prescribing doctor to your concerns. They will determine whether the person actually is abusing medicine or addicted — and will help them get treatment. Treatment will vary be based on each individual’s particular circumstances.
Americans are living longer, healthier lives — and are maintaining an interest in sex much longer than preceding generations. With the addition of drugs like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra for men, and progesterone and estrogen creams for women, sex is both achievable and comfortable later in life.
Unfortunately, most seniors have never had any formal STD education. While many soldiers were warned against “ladies of the night” in foreign ports, they weren’t made aware that anyone can have an STD — even the nice guy or gal next door. As far as today’s senior citizen is concerned, if there’s no danger of pregnancy, there’s no need for a condom.
It’s easier for seniors to contract STDs because of their lowered immune systems. It’s also harder for doctors to detect STDs in seniors, because symptoms such as the worsening eyesight and arthritis caused by chlamydia and gonorrhea can be attributed to aging.
The best way to keep the seniors in your life healthy — at least sexually — is to give them the same information as young people. Give them a quick rundown on how STDs are transmitted, what their short- and long-term effects are, and how transmission can be prevented. You should also inform them that Medicare provides free STD screenings with low-cost treatment should results come back positive.
Today’s seniors face a number of unforeseen hazards and can benefit greatly from the support of their loved ones. Don’t be afraid to approach difficult subjects such as addiction and sexual health. We’re all human — even grandma and grandpa.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.