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Home > Best practices: Treatment and rehabilitation for seniors with substance use problems.

Health Canada. (2002) Best practices: Treatment and rehabilitation for seniors with substance use problems. Ottawa: Health Canada. 147 p.

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The purpose of this project is to identify best practices in treatment and rehabilitation for seniors with substance use problems. It includes issues related to the accessibility and provision of services.
• The central components, supports and principles associated with effective and comprehensive service delivery systems are identified by synthesizing the literature and key expert perspectives.
• The outcomes of the research are intended to be a resource for service providers and program planners who deliver specialized substance abuse programs to seniors.
• Most seniors do not abuse substances, however, for those with substance use problems, alcohol is the substance most commonly used.
• Medications most commonly prescribed to seniors are heart medication, blood pressure medication, pain relievers and benzodiazepines.
• Early-onset drinkers tend to have a treatment history for alcohol use and less social supports. Late-onset drinkers may develop problems as a reaction to loss or stress, but tend to retain more supportive social networks.
• The reasons a senior develops a substance use problem are complex, however, certain risk factors have been identified, such as death of a spouse, retirement, chronic health problems, or losses in the social network.
• Prolonged substance use, intoxication or withdrawal may induce symptoms that can be misattributed to other chronic conditions or the aging process.
• Given the number of losses and challenges seniors may face, many exhibit resiliency adapting; these strengths should be drawn upon in substance abuse treatment.
• Seniors benefit from age-specific interventions, and service providers should be trained in both gerontology and substance use issues.
• Harm reduction is recognized as an effective approach for improving outcomes.
• Programs should provide transportation and/or outreach services, and adopt a client-centred, holistic treatment approach that improves overall quality of life.
• The role of the physician is central for ongoing medical care, assessments and effective service delivery.
• Greater collaboration and communication among professionals are needed to create a comprehensive continuum of care for seniors.
• It is important to increase awareness among members of the public generally, and seniors specifically, around seniors’ substance use problems.
• Public information and education must be specific to seniors rather than generic to all adults.
• Further research is needed to develop new, or modify existing, assessment tools to more accurately reflect the needs of seniors.


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