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Nervenarzt. 2002 Sep;73(9):861-6.

[Addiction in the elderly - an underestimated diagnosis in clinical practice?].

[Article in German]

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Klinik für Psychiatrie, Med. Universität zu Lübeck, Germany.


According to several studies in the USA, alcohol abuse is common among elder people, particularly among those admitted to hospital. Corresponding data for Germany are lacking as yet. In this study, the frequency of addiction problems in the elderly admitted to hospital was investigated using the data from 1990 to 1998 of the psychiatric department at the General University Hospital of Lübeck, Germany. Furthermore, the documentations of all consultations in that period were reevaluated. The psychiatric consultation service covers two general hospitals providing inpatient treatment for about 200,000 inhabitants. Diagnoses were made according to the ICD-10 criteria. In 17.7% of the males older than 64 years and in 4.2% of the elderly females admitted to the psychiatric department, alcohol dependency was diagnosed, while 5.8% of the elderly patients showed substance abuse, most often of benzodiazepine. Among the patients visited in the psychiatric consultation service, 10.8% of the elderly males and 3.2% of the elderly females were alcohol addicts and 3.9% substance abusers. The frequency of alcohol-induced neuropsychiatric complications, particularly withdrawal delirium and amnestic syndrome, increased with age. Also, benzodiazepine withdrawal delirium most frequently occurred in older patients. These results underscore that, although the prevalence rate seems to be lower than among the younger population, in the elderly population substance abuse still is a relevant medical problem, since the rate of neuropsychiatric complications increased with age.

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