Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for May 28, 2012

Workshops exploring aging, alcohol intake

The Department of Health and Social Services is conducting educational workshops this week for the public, government, First Nations and NGOs on aging, mental health and alcohol.

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Photo by AinslIe Cruickshank

EDUCATIONAL GATHERINGS CONTINUE – Irene Ralph (right), a veteran psychiatric nurse, is running this week’s sessions on seniors’ drug and alcohol consumption patterns. With her is Kelly Cooper, the manager of the territorial Seniors’ Services and Adult Protections Unit.

The Department of Health and Social Services is conducting educational workshops this week for the public, government, First Nations and NGOs on aging, mental health and alcohol.

Irene Ralph, a psychiatric nurse with more than 35 years of experience, is running the sessions.

Kelly Cooper, the manager of the department’s Seniors’ Services and Adult Protections Unit, said last Thursday, part of the education seminars is directed toward the preparation for an aging population.

The key discussion topic will revolve around the use of alcohol and drugs as you age, Cooper said in an interview.

“We look at what happens during the life span, people retire or they might get a medical condition like arthritis, or a partner dies and all of a sudden, alcohol, anxiety and depression, which maybe weren’t issues through the life span up to that point, now can become one,” said Cooper.

Another key goal will be to eliminate the stigma and open the dialogue about these issues.

Cooper said there isn’t a lot of data on alcohol use in the Yukon among people over the age of 55.

In care facilities, she said, there are good screening processes for depression, anxiety and social isolation, but fewer than five per cent of seniors go into care facilities.

Consequently, they will also be looking at ways to better support seniors in the community so they can continue to live independently.

Ralph said in an interview Thursday that there is some evidence that there’s an increase in alcohol use with some physical illnesses.

At the same time, the body’s ability to process alcohol changes as a person ages.

“Once upon a time, they may have been able to drink several drinks; they no longer have the tolerance,” she said, noting certain conditions like diabetes and hypertension contribute to these changes.

So do changes to kidney, liver function and other metabolic changes, Cooper added.

Ralph said the goal of the public meetings is to create an awareness within the community, “to get people discussing this as an issue, understanding where to go and what they can do for support.

“A good portion of this for seniors really should be education, where can they go for information,” she added.

Cooper said they want people to learn the risk factors, protective factors, physical impacts, and resources available in town and online.

Both Cooper and Ralph said alcohol dependency is most often recognized in seniors during a medical emergency.

They will experience withdrawal symptoms when or if they are admitted to hospital for another health reason.

Myths about mental wellness as people age will also be discussed.

Said Cooper: “A lot of people think people get depressed and cranky as they get older, but there are good treatments for depression ... we can’t be ageist and say, ‘Well, they’re an older person and it’s a natural part of aging’ and write that off ... we wouldn’t do that to a younger person.”

Thirty-nine per cent of seniors go unidentified as having depression, Ralph said.

The meetings will look at what the normal physiology of aging is and what resources are available for seniors suffering from alcohol, drug or mental health issues.

Cooper made it clear that the sessions will not advocate for abstinence but rather harm reduction.

The meetings are co-sponsored by the Yukon Liquor Corp.

The first public meeting was held at 1 p.m. today at the Golden Age Society, another will be held at 7:00 tonight at Hellaby Hall.

The education sessions will continue throughout the week, becoming more specialized toward Friday’s seminar.

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