InnovAge Blog

Exploring the Interplay of Addiction and Dementia

Linda Efird at the Rocky Mountain Conference on Dementia

Last month, 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), we’re proud that one of our experts was selected to speak.

Linda Efird, director of behavioral and mental health services at InnovAge, presented on addiction and dementia. She encouraged honest discussion and explained the connections between both diseases.

Here were some of her presentation’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 of alcoholism for 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.

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. Caregiving for a loved one is hard in all situations, but adding addiction into the mix is even harder.

It is important that caregivers are honest with themselves and reach out for support during what can be an incredibly challenging time. Make sure you 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 in the position of caregiver, try to focus on the task at hand.
  • 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.

Learn more about how PACE can provide respite for caregivers and access to, coordinated healthcare and more.
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