OASIS, a new program at Pathways, assists older adults and their caregivers to manage mental health and substance use, physical health needs and overall well-being. Western News illustration

Bringing senior health and substance abuse into the conversation

Pathways wants to talk to seniors about substance use, health needs and overall well-being

Pathways Addiction Resource Centre is reaching out to older community members who may be struggling silently.

Older Adults Sharing Information on Substance use (OASIS) assists older adults and their caregivers to manage mental health and substance use, physical health needs and overall well-being.

Seniors face unique problems when it comes to the risk of substance use and medication misuses, both prescription and non-prescription.

“When researching this project it was estimated that nine out of ten older adults take their prescriptions improperly or not at all,” said Daryl Meyers, agency director at Pathways. ”Medication misuse in older adults can cause cognitive and physical impairment. OASIS is uniquely tailored to build on older adults’ strengths, maximize their potential and optimize physical wellness.”

Many older people are on a range of medications, and interactions with other medications or substances can pose a serious problem.

“Is it because mom is getting old that she has been falling, or is it because mom is not taking her medication, not taking it properly or mixing it with others?” said Meyers, adding that alcohol is always an issue.

“People always forget about alcohol, but alcohol is a big factor when it comes to drinking and taking medication,” said Meyers.

And as physicians respond to new legislation on opioid use by cutting their patients off prescriptions, some are turning to the streets or other ways to get prescription or non-prescription opioids.

That’s a lot of ways things can go wrong and lead an older adult into health and substance problems. Meyer said the OASIS program starts with primary intervention in the form of community education.

“We are going to educate the community, whether it is the older person themselves, their caregiver or their caregiving team,” said Meyers, adding that includes going into care homes and places where older people congregate.

Part of the discussion centres on talking to your doctor and pharmacist.

“You should be asking what are the signs of normal aging and what may be prescription non-compliance,” said Meyers.

A secondary level of prevention, is screening older adults and distributing some materials to to find out whether or not they may need some further counselling.

“The third part would be the clinical intervention,” said Meyers, adding that older people struggle with asking for help.

“Younger people now are being educated that it is okay to go out and ask for help. If you have an issue, you can go talk to people,” she said. “But with the older population, it is still a stigma, they don’t want to ask for help.”

Meyers said OASIS goes beyond just substance abuse; the goal is education and counselling support to raise awareness, encourage healthy lifestyles and develop successful strategies to reduce the risk of substance use and medication misuses.

OASIS is supported by $100,000 service innovation grant from the Community Action Initiative and partnerships with the Division of Family Practice, Interior Health, as well as the Better at Home program at Penticton and District Community Resources.

Visit www.pathwaysaddictions.ca or call 250-809-4743 for more information about OASIS.

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