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Reach and Refer to help older adults tackle risky drinking

Interventions are tailored to meet individual patient needs

An Adelaide PHN developed program designed to reduce alcohol-related harm in older Australians will commence in the first half of 2022/2023. The Reach and Refer program, based in part on Monash University’s REACH project, was developed during 2021/2022.

It follows data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey which showed that older adults are increasingly drinking at risky and harmful levels and daily drinking is more prevalent, especially among those aged 70+. The Survey also showed that people aged in their 50s and 60s were more likely to drink at levels that exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines compared to the general population.

Reach and Refer is a modulated program for older adults aged 50+ with risky or harmful alcohol consumption patterns. Adelaide PHN has funded Mission Australia and seven general practices in the Adelaide metropolitan area to deliver Reach and Refer.

The program begins within general practice, with initial alcohol consumption screening followed by brief interventions and motivational interviewing. Referral to specialist Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) services is then offered to patients with risky or harmful alcohol consumption.

Interventions are tailored to meet individual patient needs and this intensive client-centred counselling will be delivered by Mission Australia AOD staff on site at the general practices.

Reach and Refer aims to:

  • Support general practice to routinely screen for alcohol consumption and intervene when patients aged 50+ need support to address risky or harmful patterns of alcohol consumption;

  • Enhance integrated care through the development of referral pathways between general practice and the AOD sector; and

  • Reduce morbidities and mortalities associated with risky and harmful levels of alcohol consumption.

Older adults are a priority population identified in Adelaide PHN’s AOD Treatment Framework. In the Adelaide PHN region, older adults account for almost one-quarter of the population and the number of older people in the region is expected to increase by more than 50,000 by 2030.

Even though older people are under-represented in AOD treatment services, evidence suggests they respond well to appropriate interventions but that these should not be confined to tertiary treatment services – primary health care, harm reduction, generalist and specialist health services also have important roles to play.

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