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Most programs on substance abuse ignore the needs of older people

October 27, 2003|Dianne Partie Lange

Fewer than one in five substance abuse programs addresses the specific needs of older Americans, concludes a University of Iowa survey of nearly 14,000 public and private facilities.

Although it's true that the rate of substance abuse is low (compared with other age groups) in people over 65, an estimated 10% to 15% are affected, usually by alcohol abuse. Those numbers are likely to increase as baby boomers age.

Older people who are dependent on drugs or alcohol are more likely to have serious health problems than younger people and to have complications during withdrawal, says senior author Stephan Arndt, professor of psychiatry and biostatistics and director of the Iowa Consortium for Substance Research and Evaluation.

Only 17.7% of facilities reported services designed specifically for older adults, ranging from transportation services to access to medical staff trained to work with older clients, according to the survey.

"From an earlier study we did, we know that most of the elderly with alcohol problems never get treated. I was surprised by the distribution of what services there were; state by state, the number of centers with services for this group was unrelated to the number of people needing them," Arndt says.

The study was published in the September issue of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

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Dianne Partie Lange

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