Tag Archives: AARP

Opiate Addiction and Seniors

February 14, 2019 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Substance use disorders occur when at least one substance or drug leads to distress or impairment that is clinically significant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of opioid addicts in the United States is estimated to be in the millions.

Exact numbers may never be known, as many people who are addicted to opioids try to keep it a secret or legitimately do not realize a problem exists. Some may fear the stigma and judgment that come with being an addict.

A recent study by the CDC determined over 200,000 people died in the United States between 1999 and 2016 from causes related to prescription opioids. Nebraska saw 44 deaths in 2016. While less than the national average of 13.3 deaths per 100,000, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nebraska still saw 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

Those over 60 are not immune. The AARP has stated in educational literature that while bipartisan efforts, public awareness of prescription drug issues, and treatment have increased, fewer efforts have been geared to the older population, whose “unique characteristics may demand different or more nuanced solutions to these problems.”

Dr. Allison Dering-Anderson is the community pharmacist in the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Department of Pharmacy Practice and a lecturer in pharmacy law and ethics. She agrees that older adults have more medical issues that put them at risk for substance use disorders.

“People over 60 have any of a number of things that set them up in a circumstance where they need an opiate to treat pain,” Dering-Anderson says. “They are the ones most likely to have some chronic pain condition from an injury that never healed right, or arthritis that is ridiculously painful, and they need an opiate to control the pain.”

Dering-Anderson is no stranger to pain or opiates. She was prescribed opiates after a painful knee operation. Post surgery, she said she would not have been able to do anything without significant pain control, but was lucky that her body chose to accept pain medication as that and nothing more. Not everyone is so lucky. Problems may occur when the body accepts the medication, but the brain becomes accustomed to, and craves, the euphoria associated with opiates.

The problem is the scientific method, Dering-Anderson says, not one of intentional over-prescription or market pressure to sell more drugs. For example, when Tramadol (a synthetic opioid) was introduced to the American market, it was considered to have no potential for contributing to substance use disorder. But that changed after its release—as with many drugs new to market—when hidden side effects and statistical outliers were discovered.

“There have been some missteps in determining the potential for substance use disorder,” Dering-Anderson says, adding adamantly that deliberate misdirection is not the issue. “The FDA approved the Tramadol label based on studies that did not show this was a problem. Now it’s a problem, and they did all of the correct post-market things to send out new warnings to change their labeling.”

More often the problem is selective participation in treatment. Patients may avoid physical therapy or exercise, preferring the quicker results of opiates.

Jessie Thompson works in the front lines of substance use disorder treatment as a counselor at Lutheran Family Services. Her observation is that older patients may have been prescribed opiates for so long they might not necessarily realize that they are addicted.

“Sometimes I think they have pain and maybe the pain is not as bad as it was, or there are other treatment modalities that haven’t been prescribed because they’ve had chronic pain for so long,” Thompson says.

Stretching, exercise, and rest are often part of any recovery plan, but may fall by the wayside while medication takes front stage.

Thompson and Dering-Anderson agree that the pendulum has swung both ways and that, over the decades, doctors have been alternately leery of prescribing opiates for pain and then encouraged to do more to manage pain.

Dering-Anderson says seniors should know they do not have to be in pain, that not all pain medications lead to substance use disorder, and that following a complete regimen of treatment can reduce a patient’s drug load.

“If the prescriber and the pharmacists recommend ibuprofen [which is not considered addictive], give that a try, but do all of the other things that go along with pain management,” she says. “You need to rest, do your exercises, massage therapy, go to physical therapy, because it is with those professions that we have a chance at reducing your drug load and to keep you safe.”

There are many variables that go into addiction. Life circumstances, relationship status, genetic predisposition, type of substance, and medical conditions can all be factors contributing to substance use disorder. But one factor in avoiding addiction is vigilance.

Visit unmc.edu or lfsneb.org for more information about addiction resources at UNMC and Lutheran Family Services.

This article first appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha MagazineTo receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Staying Safe on the Road

May 19, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Most drivers have been witness to fellow road warriors behaving badly. Whether they cut you off, didn’t use a blinker, sped around you, or some other dangerous offense—chances are you thought, “learn how to drive!”

While some drivers neglect the rules of the road, help is available to keep safe on the streets. AARP Driver Safety was first launched in 1979. It is designed to meet the needs of older drivers through the use of four educational programs. In fact, the flagship AARP Smart Driver course is the nation’s largest classroom and online driver safety course. It was designed for people age 50 and older. Courses are available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

Lana Fitzgerald is an instructor of AARP Smart Driver courses. She says the driving landscape has changed dramatically in the past 30 to 60 years, and it will continue to change.

“Keeping pace with the changes is helpful to all drivers,” Fitzgerald says.

Lana Fitzgerald

Lana Fitzgerald

The AARP Smart Driver Course is optional. It boasts an award-winning, research-based curriculum. In Nebraska, the entire course takes only four hours if taken in-person. Some participants choose to learn the information at their own pace via the online course. Either way, many participants find themselves eligible for insurance discounts upon completion of the class. Best of all, there are no tests to pass in order to qualify for these discounts.

Mary F. Allen, 83, is a course participant who came to Nebraska from Arkansas to spend the winter months with her family.

“It’s imperative that drivers avail themselves of state-by-state rules and regulations and traffic law changes,” she says.

While Allen originally intended to take an online version of the course, she instead signed up for an in-person class with her daughter,  Kim Moss-Allen, 53.

“The program online would not have been as beneficial as the personal atmosphere of the classroom,” Allen says.

Not a member of AARP? Not a problem. An AARP membership is not required to enjoy all of the benefits this refresher course has to offer. While designed for drivers who are over 50, the course has seen participants as young as 14 benefit from the information.

Participants engage in a variety of lessons, such as learning research-based safety strategies that can reduce the likelihood of a crash. They also learn how aging, alcohol, and health-related issues affect driving ability. Additionally, it focuses on areas that can use more training, such as roundabouts, pavement markings, stop-sign compliance, and much more.

“Over 16,000,000 participants have gone through AARP Driver Safety classroom and online courses, which have been taught by more than 4,000 AARP Driver Safety volunteers,” Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald herself is a second generation AARP Driver Safety Instructor, and has been teaching the course for more than four years. Her dad taught classes in North Dakota. Fitzgerald teaches in Nebraska at several locations, including CHI Health Midlands and Sunridge Village Retirement Community.

The course is available throughout the year, and is taught by volunteer instructors nationwide.

The Break-Point Generation

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s not an uncommon tradition. The Roemmich family gathers every year for a reunion. It’s also not uncommon at such reunions to have boxes of black-and-white photos of family members no one can identify any more.

So Ron Roemmich decided to create a video cataloging all the family he and his siblings still could name—a historical record for the younger generations.

Just one problem. Ron didn’t know how to create this video.

Ron and his wife, Berdeen, signed up for a movie-making class at Metro Community College. Their class was taught by Laurie Brodeur, a semi-retired Millard teacher who now leads six technology courses in Metro’s continuing education curriculum.

Although Brodeur was “very gracious with senior citizens,” Ron admits to feeling behind the other eight or nine students—and like he was taking up a lot of Brodeur’s attention during the class period.

“I suppose the real confession is: We had her come back and help us after the class was over,” he says.

“We’re kind of the break-point generation. People 10 years younger than us are probably okay. But anybody over 60, I bet 50 percent know what they’re doing [with computers].” – Ron Roemmich

Having a project with a firm deadline made learning the program an imperative goal. “It was fun, but it would be desperately frustrating if you didn’t have a goal,” Ron says. And though they had 500 photos, “It was not gonna whip us.”

The Roemmiches were pleased with their final product. In fact, they made two more videos for a reunion of Ron’s doctoral classmates, making good use of their new movie-making skills.

Even so, Ron says, “We’ve explored I’d say 1 percent of what a computer can do for us.”

The Roemmiches do have a Facebook account but only check it when their kids tell them to. After checking their 100-200 e-mails per day, Berdeen says, “you don’t want to go on Facebook. You’re just tired.”

“We’re kind of the break-point generation,” Ron says. “People 10 years younger than us are probably okay. But anybody over 60, I bet 50 percent know what they’re doing—or would that be 20 percent? Not a lot.”

It doesn’t take much to fall behind in technology. “When it could have burst open for me,” Ron says, “would have been in the ’80s maybe. But my boss was afraid of computers, so he told the rest of us we should leave them alone. So we really got behind. And now we don’t even know the language.”

Along with computers are phones, televisions, and other electronic systems. Like the DVR the Roemmiches got for Christmas and don’t really understand how to use.

Asking people for help is the best way Berdeen knows to learn something new. That and practicing. “You just have to keep using it and trying different things,” she says.

Brodeur is one of those people the Roemmiches will ask for help. And she would agree with Berdeen: Practice and patience are key.

“Students can see their progression from one class to the next and enjoy being able to go home and try their skills and return to the next class in the series with questions.” – Emily Getzschman, marketing and media relations manager with Omaha Public Library

Among her Metro classes is a series of technology update courses for seniors (although non-seniors are of course also welcome). The first class is broad, covering things like the difference between a browser and a search engine; the many uses of Google; and introductions to some sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Hulu. It helps students become comfortable using the computer.

Exploring those sites is important, Brodeur says, because “you can use Google and YouTube to learn how to do almost anything on your computer.”

The second and third levels help set students up with Facebook accounts and learn more and more about using the program.

Brodeur loves to see her students have an “aha” moment and tries to always stress that no question is a stupid one. This is important, because adults rarely like to admit when they don’t know something. Overall, she says, it is a very positive experience because her students come eager to learn with optimistic attitudes.

Omaha Public Library also offers computer classes for beginners and older adults. OPL partners with AARP for a series that gives an introduction to computers, including training on Microsoft Word, e-mail, and the internet. Seniors who are not new to computers can take classes for specialized software to manipulate photos, create greeting cards, and learn how to use social media tools, like Facebook and Pinterest. Classes can even aid seniors who are unexpectedly re-entering the job market.

Emily Getzschman, marketing and media relations manager for OPL, says that the introductory classes offered in a series are very well-attended. “Students can see their progression from one class to the next and enjoy being able to go home and try their skills and return to the next class in the series with questions and to build on their new computer experiences,” Getzschman says.

Classes are free, with no limit on the number of times you can take them. And they’re offered every month.

Like at Metro, the library class instructors strive to make students feel supported, never stupid. Getzschman has heard students say the instructors “were patient and let the student work at a comfortable pace.”


A resource guide for seniors can be found at http://guides.omahalibrary.org/Seniors.