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Screening Reveals Overlooked Addictions among Elderly

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Screening and brief intervention programs can spot addiction and mental health problems among elderly patients that traditional healthcare interactions may miss, findings from a new Florida study indicate.

Reuters reported June 12 that researchers screened more than 3,000 elderly Florida residents during a three-year study, using a tool called BRITE to assess subjects for six risk factors. The study authors found that 10 percent of those screened had problems with alcohol misuse, 26 percent had problems with prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication, 64 percent suffered from depression, and 2 percent were at risk for suicide.

Only one percent used illicit drugs, researchers found.

The investigators also observed a significant association between alcohol and prescription medication misuse and depressive symptoms.

After screening, the older adults were given up to five in-home intervention sessions to educate them on the risks of substance misuse and provide them with strategies for changing their behavior. “People participating in the program, completing the sessions, and follow-up demonstrated lowered risk for the substances and often a decrease in depression scores,” said lead author Lawrence Shonfeld of the University of South Florida.

The researchers suggested that an important component of the success of the project was the fact that intervention sessions were delivered in settings where the population lived or received services, such as health clinics and aging-services sites.

The study appears in the July 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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