What Can We Do to Help Senior Citizens Through Drug Abuse and Addiction?

Jun 02, 2017
Tagged with: What Can We Do to Help Senior Citizens Through Drug Abuse and Addiction?

Substance abuse is a problem that has severely plagued humanity’s last 100 years. It’s something that can affect both teens and seniors alike, and according to common knowledge on the matters of drug use, abuse, and addiction, there’s only one thing to blame: the drugs themselves. Human biology is simply too weak to fully resist the chemical hooks that latch onto brain and body, leaving a trail of addicts that need to be policed, jailed, or rehabilitated through some other means. But are the drugs themselves really to blame?

While the subject is extremely controversial to say the least, journalist and author Johann Hari has a possibly more controversial and different answer to that question. In his book Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, Hari did some deep digging in an attempt to discover the truth behind the plague of drug addiction. What he found was surprising but also not entirely inconceivable: more than the drugs themselves, it’s the immediate environment that kept addicts hooked.

In his book, Hari discusses the case of the Vietnam War: among US soldiers stationed in Vietnam at the time, heroin use was ‘as common as chewing gum’. About 20% of the soldiers there were verified to be heroin-addicted, and understandably, people were terrified at the thought that so many heroin addicts would be going home to the US after the war. This public fear, however, would prove to be unfounded, as after the war, 95% of the addicted soldiers simply stopped taking heroin when they went home from Vietnam (and very few of this percentage actually needed rehab).

As Hari observed, a lot of the abuse was connected to their immediate environment. Because they were no longer trapped in a terrifying state of war, a big percentage of these former addicts simply didn’t need heroin anymore to cope with their surroundings. Simply going back to their families in their own country was enough to quell their former need for heroin.

Again, it’s a controversial view on a controversial topic, but there is some wisdom to be gleaned from Hari’s research, especially in the case of senior citizens who live in retirement homes where regular drug exposure is the norm. Instead of targeting the very medication that some of the seniors need to survive, why not instead focus on improving their very lives?

Regular Exercise is a Must for Healthier Living

We all know that exercise keeps the body strong and better equipped at withstanding disease and other afflictions. But did you know that regular exercise also has some very direct effects on how well we sleep?

In a comprehensive survey by the National Sleep Foundation involving 2,600 respondents (men and women 18-85 years of age), researchers found that 150 minutes of at least moderately strenuous exercise per week improved overall sleep quality by about 65%. In layman’s terms, simply devoting 150 minutes of your week to real exercise can result in healthier, more consistent, and less interrupted sleep. So before you sign off on allowing grandma or grandpa to regularly take sleeping medication, ask yourself: are they getting enough exercise?

We’re not saying that you should force your senior to run, lift weights, or take up martial arts. While the NSF study says that more vigorous exercises lead to more and better sleep benefits, it also mentions that any exercise at all can and will have a positive effect on regular sleep patterns. In the case of senior citizens, this means regular and lengthy walks, which also provides a bonding opportunity with other seniors.

Apart from that, you can also explore other somewhat strenuous but ultimately low-impact exercises that seniors can engage in without compromising other aspects of their health. One such activity is yoga: not only can it be enjoyed by both beginners and veterans alike, it also promotes advancement at the practitioner’s own time, allowing senior citizens themselves to gauge their own abilities in terms of how far they can go during each session.

Taichi is another highly physical, low-impact activity that seniors can enjoy. Its practice depends on slow and highly deliberate movements that involve the entire body. Even as taichi engages nearly all muscles and joints, it’s actually more of a mental than a physical exercise, relying more on mental focus and muscle memory rather than the practitioner’s current physical conditioning.

Regular Meditation is a Conduit for Sharp Mental Health

Meditation is something that’s already being used and recommended by drug counselors and rehab facilities for quelling addiction and sharpening mental focus. And while its regular practice can prove to be boring for some, especially for seniors who’d rather spend their days engaged in more interesting pursuits, there is more than one way to meditate.

Rather than forcing yourself to sit and mentally go through the process of meditation, another less popular way to meditate is through kyudo aka japanese zen archery. In a nutshell, this form of archery is more focused on developing form than it is on hitting the bullseye. As opposed to competitive archery where the goal is to outdo your enemies with sheer skill, kyudo emphasizes on translating mental focus and relaxation into the physical act of shooting the bow and arrow.

Kyudo’s goal is to ‘empty the mind’ by thinking of nothing else at the moment when the arrow is released. And as with any activity, regular practice makes it easier for the practitioner to enter this peaceful state of mind. It’s a powerful meditation tool for anyone who deals with stress. And for seniors, it’s a low-impact opportunity for regularly sharpening both mental and physical faculties.

Keep Your Senior Citizen Physically and Mentally Engaged

Any of the abovementioned activities can allow seniors to maintain physical and mental health. But if they’re not interested in any of these activities, there are countless other ways to keep them engaged, moving, and living healthier and more interesting lives.

Whether at home or in an assisted-living facility, senior citizens can benefit a lot from activities like DIY craft-making, continuing education, pet therapy, music therapy, group excursions with other seniors, gardening, and other similar activities that engage both the mind as well as the body.

If you can find a way to improve the life of a senior citizen, you can keep them from reverting to or adopting a lifestyle of substance abuse and addiction.

Author: Rienzi Mosqueda