Grey Matters conference wrap-up

On 1 April, the University’s National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction hosted a national conference on alcohol and drugs among older people.

The Grey Matters Conference: Preventing and responding to alcohol and other drug problems among older Australians raised awareness of alcohol and other drug (AOD) issues among older Australians, clarified the implications for the aged care sector and the alcohol and other drug prevention treatment sector, and identified ways forward for cross-sectoral initiatives and response strategies.

NCETA Director, Professor Ann Roche, highlighted how Australia’s population is ageing at a faster rate than ever before and how ageing can predispose to increased AOD harm.

Professor Paul Haber indicated that alcohol and other drug services are experiencing an influx of older clients, many of whom have complex co-morbidities and other problems.

Professor Brian Draper noted that older people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and other drugs which can cause and exacerbate cognitive impairment, depression and physical health problems.

The role of modern medicines in improving the lives of older people was examined by Associate Professor Craig Whitehead, Associate Professor Debra Rowett and Professor Mary Luszcz.

Professor Leon Lack highlighted that self-perceived sleeping difficulties were prevalent, although insomnia did not increase with age, and sleep symptoms among older people were widely treated with medications (particularly benzodiazepines) despite lack of efficacy. In contrast, cognitive behavioural treatment was noted as an effective and durable treatment for insomnia.

The close links between AOD problems and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were examined by Professor Malcolm Battersby.

Dr Tim Semple said that use of opioids by older Australians for chronic non-cancer pain had increased substantially over the past 15 years despite lack of evidence of efficacy, and increased levels of harm.

From a consumer advocacy perspective, Mr Ian Yates described how older Australians are often regarded as an economic and social liability despite substantial contributions to society.

In closing, the commonalities betweenthe AOD and aged care sectors were illustrated by Professor Margaret Hamilton, specifically the need for appropriate human and service responses.

As well as succeeding in its role as forum for exchange between academics and professionals in the field, issues raised at the conference drew national attention and comment in the media.

For the full story, visit the School of Medicine blog:

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