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Senior substance use disorders: A silent epidemic

Substance misuse and dependency among older adults is a growing but mostly overlooked threat to healthy ageing. While the use of illicit drugs and alcohol are generally lower among older adults compared with younger cohorts, ageing itself presents greater risks for substance use disorders (SUD) due to the combination of biopsychosocial changes and complicated medication use, which provokes substance-abusing behavior in older age.  Alcohol, cannabis and medications that are used to manage pain, anxiety, sleeplessness and depression can be particularly dangerous for older people, even if they are not addicted. The adverse effects of such substance on the cognition, emotional and physical health of old adults puts them also at a higher risk for falls, fractures, car accidents and other such emergencies. Substance use disorders among older adults are mostly underdiagnosed and undertreated due to a lack of awareness among health care professionals. The Canadian Coalition for Seniors Mental Health (CCSMH) are leaders in bringing voice and actions to this growing trend. CCSMH recently launched 4 sets of evidence-based Clinical Guidelines on Substance Use Disorders in Older Adults which included educational tools and clinical practice recommendations on the use of alcohol, Benzodiazepine, Cannabis and opioid among seniors. “We are very hopeful these Guidelines will lead to the prevention of substance-related problems as well as to improved services for older adults who have developed a substance use disorder” says Dr. David Conn, project lead, Co-Chair of the CCSMH and Vice-President of Education at Baycrest. Ensuring that older adults have access to better treatment for Substance use disorders across the country is aligned with the IFA’s advocacy position of fostering healthy ageing.  Join the conversation with IFA experts and Dr David Conn today to learn about the first-ever National Clinical Guidelines detailing the evidence and best practice recommendations for the prevention, assessment and treatment of SUD among older adults. Original press release:

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Looking Ageism in the Mirror

A robust older population is in many cases the hallmark of a highly developed society. Reflected in a healthy ageing population is society’s dedication to push boundaries and reframe what is probable. Our consumer industries, however, paint a very different narrative. The fashion and beauty industries have long excluded older people from runways, magazines and campaigns, perpetuating negative stereotypes about ageing and harmful standards of beauty.  Although industry giants such as Gucci have taken steps towards age-inclusivity in their campaigning, older models remain vastly underrepresented in beauty advertisements. With an expanding older demographic, the proportion of citizens unable to identify with the current representations of beauty has increased.  In sidelining older consumers, this sector has not only been dismissive of the needs and desires of older people but has lost out on the “grey pound”.  In a recent article published by the International Longevity Centre (ILC) UK, the exclusory behaviors of both the fashion and beauty industry was predicted to cost them close to 11 billion pounds.  Further to this, research conducted by the ILC UK revealed that "by 2040, people aged 50 years and over are expected to be this sector's key consumer base".   While this presents an opportunity for increased profit for the fashion and beauty industries, it paradoxically challenges this sectors’ most profitable strategy, the "anti-ageing" and "youth-preservation" fear tactics.  These ageist marketing schemes not only perpetuate reductionist ideologies of ageing and beauty, they also create an "us" versus "them" generational complex. In a 2018 journal article published by IFA expert Dr. Lucie Vidovićová, the intergenerational conflict created by industries is explored further. Her work exposes the oversimplified storyline of ageing presented in social media and argues that these strategies are used to manipulate the behaviours of older and younger people. IFA works tirelessly alongside experts, NGOs and thought leaders to challenge these limiting perceptions on ageing and confront the discomforting gaps in the rights for older people. IFA’s 15th Global Conference on Ageing, themed "Rights Matter", provides global leaders in the fields of ageing, health governance and public policy the platform to have 'game changing' conversations about ageism and the need for accurate and enabling representations of older people. For more information on the global conference please visit:

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Life Course Immunization: More Than Just Flu Season

Immunization is recognized globally as an effective means of preventing and minimizing the impact of infectious diseases such as influenza, pneumonia and shingles. An article in the Press Telegram “Senior Living: Scheduling your immunizations as you age” offers an informed perspective on the importance of vaccination throughout a person’s life course. Dr. David Michalik, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Long Beach, California said “vaccinations that you received as a child also can wear off over time, requiring revaccination or a booster shot to boost your immune system’s ‘memory.’” In the absence of revaccination or booster shots in later life and as the immune system “memory” declines, older adults are more susceptible to vaccine preventable diseases. This is particularly amplified in the presence of behavioural risk factors like smoking and/or chronic conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or respiratory ailments.  Although local vaccination schedules vary considerably, Dr. Michalik provided a general statement of recommended vaccinations for adults in the local situe: - 50 years or over: annual influenza vaccination, a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) booster every 10 years, and two doses of the shingles vaccine; - 60 years or over: pneumonia vaccination; and - 65 years or over: annual high-dose flu vaccine can provide additional protection and is specifically developed for this age group. Global efforts to increase vaccination rates over the past few decades have resulted in a decrease in mortality of communicable diseases from 33% in 1990, to 25% in 2010. While European Union public health policies recommend at least a 75% rate of influenza vaccination among high-risk groups all countries, with the exception of the United Kingdom, are well below the target. In a report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), under 50% of older French adults aged over 65 years reported being vaccinated against influenza in the 2014-15 season. An IFA led multidisciplinary expert meeting “Vaccination in France: Changing the Public Perception” in Lyon in December 2019 aimed to reconcile perspectives from important stakeholder groups in the current vaccination discourse and identify challenges and opportunities for improving participation in vaccination campaigns. Prof. Jean-Pierre Michel of Geneva University’s Medical School reported during the meeting that effective adult vaccination schedules can support maintenance of functional ability and help prevent 2.5 million deaths annually due to communicable diseases. An underestimated benefit of both influenza and pneumonia immunization is the growing evidence of a reduction in cardiovascular complications including stroke and heart failure in adults over 65 years of age.  To learn more about secondary benefits of vaccination and related emerging research areas in cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, contact IFA Experts Prof. Jean-Pierre Michel, Professor of Geriatric Medicine in Geneva, Switzerland, Prof. Catherine Weil-Olivier, Professor of Pediatrics at Paris Diderot University, or Prof. Antoni Torres, Professor of Medicine and Head of the Respiratory Intensive Care Unit at Barcelona University’s Hospital Clinic. In addition, consider following the @Vaccines4Life Twitter page, and being involved with the World Coalition on Adult Vaccination, where stakeholders collaborate on a common agenda around a life course approach to vaccination, with special attention to later life.

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The IFA has a long established and wide-ranging network of member organizations around the world. The network extends to over 75 countries covering every region. Together these organizations represent over 80 million older people.

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