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Academic evaluates tool for elderly alcohol screening

Growing concerns about the risks of alcohol and drug consumption for the elderly have led to calls from researchers for screening programs to help promote awareness of how such substances can adversely affect health. Now researchers are evaluating a potential solution.

Dr Lynette Cusack from the University of Adelaide’s School of Nursing has warned that whilst the elderly may not drink as much as younger people, even those who consume moderate levels of alcohol face a significant and unique set of health risks.

“As people get older [they develop] chronic conditions and medication use increases, which can react badly with alcohol. Older people are also at an increased risk of fractures from falls because their muscles and bones are more frail,” Cusack said. “Older people don’t usually drink as much as younger people in a single sitting but they can drink more regularly and are more likely to drink alone. They can also underestimate the quantities they consume.”

Cusack is leading a study to evaluate a screening tool that the World Health Organization (WHO) has developed. Such tools would be useful in the community setting to help health professionals identify alcohol consumption in older people and its potentially harmful effects.

“We don’t currently have a universal tool for screening for a range of substances, including alcohol, by older Australians and their understanding of how alcohol may impact their health,” Cusack said.

“However, such a tool is vital for over 65s, to create awareness of the risks associated with alcohol and to assist health professionals and caregivers.”

Cusack is evaluating WHO’s ASSIST (Alcohol, Smoking, Substance Involvement Screening Test) tool potential effectiveness in community settings.

“The study will help us identify how we might need to alter the layout, font size and language used in the questionnaire, so it can work more effectively for those over 65 … which will support healthy ageing,” she said.

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