Small but growing number of seniors using drugs
Seniors constitute the fastest growing population group in Canada, and some of them use illicit drugs. Researchers say older adults tend to be an under-recognized group of drug users but it's a trend that needs study and attention.
Mavis Becker is a senior who enjoys drugs. The Vancouverite, who's about to turn 65, says she has a lot of stress on her plate, caring for her 93-year-old father who suffers from dementia. When she gets wound up, Mavis rolls herself a joint.
"I do have a habit of getting on the hyper side. And I find if I go out on my balcony and smoke a doobie, I feel way more relaxed and I don't get too excited about it," she says.
"I hope my grandchildren will be willing to roll a doobie for me if my arthritis gets too bad," says Becker.
It seems that the baby boomers who discovered recreational drugs decades ago are bringing them along into their golden years, saying they don't intend to stop just because they are older. The numbers of seniors using illicit drugs are likely small but seem to be increasing.
"This idea that a grandmother or grandfather doing drugs, while it doesn't quite fit the stereotype, yes, this is an emerging trend," says Charmaine Spencer, a member of Simon Fraser University's Gerontology Research Centre.
Researchers say they are seeing more pot smokers in nursing homes, as well as cocaine and crack users in long-term care facilities.
One nursing home resident, who spoke to CTV News and asked not to be identified, says he has used cocaine and marijuana and says many other seniors he knows do too.
"Marijuana, it calms you down. It makes you eat good and sleep good," he says.
Some seniors use drugs legally, prescribed as a medicine. But a recent national survey reported about one per cent of seniors report using marijuana recreationally. Many suspect the number is larger.
Some of these adults are discovering drugs for the first time in their older years, turning them to help them with physical aches and pains that come with age, or as a way to escape loneliness or emotional pain.
"They are self-medicating in a safe way, and they are not coming to our attention because they are using it successfully," says outreach worker Marilyn White-Campbell.
Some who use drugs to mask the isolation become addicted to harder drugs and prescription pills, leading to dementia, falls and even death.
"There are signs and symptoms to look for. But if you are not even imagining older adults can even possibly use these kind of substances, they will go completely undetected," says Robert Eves of Community Outreach Program in Addiction.
According to the Canadian Addiction Survey, 12.8 per cent of Canadians aged 64-74 have used marijuana in their lifetime. But among those aged 44-54 -- the seniors of the future -- a much larger percentage of 50.1 per cent have used drugs.
If the trend continues as many expect it will, nursing homes will need to deal with the question about what to do with residents who want to use drugs.
And addiction counsellors say special drug treatment and prevention programs customized for seniors may have to be created.
With a report from CTV's Avis Favaro and Elizabeth St. Philip
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