Push for substance use screening for seniors

With older people more likely to drink alcohol daily, and to drink alone, researchers are currently developing Australia’s first screening tool for substance use to be used among older people in community settings.

Drug and alcohol screening of older people in the community will help build awareness of healthy consumption and minimise the harmful effects of substance use in old age, according to Australian researchers.Estepa Merlot Red Wine Series

Dr Lynette Cusack from the University of Adelaide’s School of Nursing said older people were not always aware of the different physiological effects of alcohol consumption and the impact of increased use of medications and chronic disease on their alcohol intake.

To progress the issue in Australia, Dr Cusack is currently evaluating a screening tool developed by the World Health Organisation and special addiction researchers for use among older people in community settings.

It is the first time this screening test has been validated for use among older people.

The researchers are trialling the tool with a group of older people in South Australia and NSW to assess its appropriateness and acceptance among people over 65. Based on the feedback gathered, the tool, called the Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST), will be adapted for this specific group.

Once validated for use with older people, the tool, along with training, can then be rolled out to community care workers interacting directly with older people in the community, Dr Cusack told Australian Ageing Agenda.

She said it was important for people to review their alcohol consumption as they got older due to changes in body composition and metabolism and the increased risk of fractures from falls.

Chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease and the increased use of medications could also react negatively with alcohol and warrant closer management. Dr Cusack said:

“It’s about trying to reduce drug and alcohol related-harm in older people that may occur because of the normal ageing process or any medical conditions or medications a person is taking.”

Older people did not usually drink as much as younger people in a single sitting but they were more likely to consume alcohol daily, and were more likely to drink alone, she said. They could also underestimate the quantities they consume.

The National Centre for Education and Training on Addictions recently reported that older Australians are the group most likely to drink alcohol every day, especially those 70 and over.

Dr Cusack said the screening tool was aimed at promoting healthy ageing: “It’s about keeping older people healthier, longer in their homes.”

She said she hoped the screening process, which scores their risk for harm, would promote a conversation with their care workers about safe alcohol and drug use and facilitate referrals to a drug and alcohol service or other health professionals, if necessary.

The ASSIST tool, which has undergone significant international testing, screens for problem substance use for a range of substances including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, amphetamines, opiods and sedatives.

See also current NHMRC national guidelines on reducing the health risks that arise from drinking alcohol.

Tags: community-care, drug-and-alcohol, health, lynette-cusack, university-of-adelaide,

1 thought on “Push for substance use screening for seniors

  1. Prescription medicines are a big problem in Australia and it’s the way doctors are just handing out drugs like confetti which is concerning. Each time I have gone to the doctors they end the session by writing me a prescription,, 100% every time, and I go to different ones as I don’t have a regular doctor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *