R esearchers are only beginning to realize the pervasiveness of substance abuse among people age 60 and older. Until relatively recently, alcohol and prescription drug misuse, which affects as many as 17 percent of older adults, was not discussed in either the substance abuse or the gerontological literature. The reasons for this silence are varied: Health care providers tend to overlook substance abuse and misuse among older people, mistaking the symptoms for those of dementia, depression, or other problems common to older adults. In addition, older adults are more likely to hide their substance abuse and less likely to seek professional help. Many relatives of older individuals with substance use disorders, particularly their adult children, are ashamed of the problem and choose not to address it. The result is thousands of older adults who need treatment and do not receive it.
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