Encouraging older Australians to open up about alcohol

It’s no secret that general practitioners and their older patients share a high degree of trust.

Even so, some topics can be difficult to broach.

Initiating a respectful, yet clinical, conversation with a patient about their level of alcohol consumption can be hard.

A new resource is supporting GPs to comfortably and confidently carry out these important conversations.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare people in their 60s were most likely to exceed risky drinking guidelines on at least 5 days per week (7.0% in 2016 up from 5.7% in 2013).

Women in their 50s (13%) and males between 55–64 (28.8%) were the most likely to exceed lifetime risk guidelines by consuming on average more than 2 standard drinks per day.

WA Primary Health Alliance CEO Learne Durrington said research indicated shame and embarrassment were the biggest barriers in preventing older Australians from talking to a health professional about their drinking habits or alcohol consumption.

“What we’re hearing is that older drinkers would reduce their consumption if they believed it would be beneficial to their health and if their doctor advised them to do so,” she said.

“Older people are the greatest consumers of health services and GPs have a high degree of trust with patients in these age brackets.

“So GPs are ideally placed for initiating clinical conversations on alcohol or other drug use with their older patients.”

To assist in starting these conversations, WA Primary Health Alliance, in partnership with local addiction specialists, general practitioners and Sushi Productions, have developed a series of short online video resources to help GPs have respectful conversations about alcohol and other drug use with older patients.

Videos feature case scenarios for GPs including a patient presenting with a recent fall and insomnia, a patient using substances to manage anxiety and chronic pain, and a patient discharged from hospital with acute pancreatitis.

The suite of resources also includes a brief presentation of why and how to talk to older patients by Dr Norman Swan and a panel interview with local experts including Dr Allan Quigley and Dr Fiona Sluchniak exploring safe consumption levels, referral options, health implications, residential aged care and pharmacotherapies.

GPs across WA also have access to the Practitioner Online Referral and Treatment Services (PORTS) and HealthPathways alcohol intervention guide which provides clinical tools, referral pathways and treatments options to support patients with alcohol and other drug concerns.

For additional professional development and skill based techniques, GPs and other health professionals can also access the Treating Alcohol and Drugs in Primary Care Education Program.  The program includes face to face education sessions, short video lectures and webinars on general and specific alcohol and drug topics.