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Senior substance use disorders: A silent epidemic

April 23, 2020  · 2 min read

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.

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