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Exploring the Interplay of Addiction and Dementia

InnovAge was pleased to once again sponsor the annual Rocky Mountain Conference on Dementia hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.  In addition to talking with caregivers and others about Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), one of our experts was selected to speak.

InnovAge Director of Behavioral and Mental Health Services Linda Efird gave a presentation about the interplay of addiction and dementia, with an honest conversation about connections between the two diseases. Here are some of the discussion's most important takeaways:

Dementia and addiction are both incredibly challenging diseases, but a whole new set of challenges arise when someone is diagnosed with both at the same time.

There is a lot we still don’t know about the relationship between these two diseases. However, we do know that those with a history of addiction are at a higher risk of developing dementia later in life.

The good news is that treatment for alcoholism in older adults can improve cognitive and physical symptoms at any stage. Specialty services are available through the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), including both mental health and psychiatric assessments when ordered by the physician. Mental health counselors can also see participants individually for therapeutic support and intervention.

Caregiving for a loved one is hard no matter what, but adding addiction into the mix can be even harder. We often don’t want to discuss the realities of addiction – particularly in older adults – because it can bring up painful emotions, memories, and stereotypes.

It is important that caregivers are honest with themselves and reach out for support during what can be an incredibly challenging time.

Remember to:
  • Give yourself permission to feel angry or resentful. Often, an individual’s long history of addiction has caused strained relationships, which can make it hard to play the role of caregiver for someone with dementia.
  • Now that you’re a caregiver, try to focus on the task at hand. Care for the older adult as best as you can, one day at a time.
  • Eat, rest, and exercise. If you don’t care for yourself, you cannot also care for someone else.
  • Don’t isolate yourself. You are not alone. Seek out support groups, mental health services, and other resources available in your community.

Linda Efird Dementia Conference InnovAge Speaker
Presenter Linda Efird at the Rocky Mountain Conference on Dementia