Workshops address urgent issue of substance abuse among older adults

older man with heavy clothes grasping a paper cup

In “Losing Their Footing,” The Capital Times tells the story of Mark, an 80-year-old Wisconsin man who suffered a fall due to a serious drinking problem. The article notes that excessive drinking is on the rise among elderly Wisconsin residents, with a rate nearly double the national average. Not coincidentally, the elderly death rate from falls in Wisconsin is also twice the national average.

Suzanna Waters Castillo
Suzanna Waters Castillo: ‘These much-needed workshops are unique in Wisconsin and will help to meet the growing challenges of substance use problems among older adults.’

To deal with this emerging health crisis, University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies will offer a new certificate with three daylong workshops for social workers, nurses, physicians, and other health and human service professionals who work with older adults. The workshops will introduce the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment model (SBIRT), an evidence-based intervention that identifies people at risk for substance abuse.

“Caring for older adults with substance abuse issues requires specialized knowledge,” says Suzanna Waters Castillo, Ph.D., director of professional development in geriatric mental health at Continuing Studies. “These much-needed workshops are unique in Wisconsin and will help to meet the growing challenges of substance use problems among older adults.”

Evidence-based practices

On March 23, Meeting the Challenges of Substance Misuse in Older Adults will focus on substance abuse issues facing Wisconsin’s elderly population. Waters Castillo will provide an overview of how substance abuse affects older adults’ bodies and daily lives, as well as the guidelines for healthy alcohol consumption among elderly people. She will also delve into the challenges of providing screening and care.

On April 20, Effective Substance Use Conversations Using Motivational Interviewing will focus on motivational interviewing as the core of SBIRT. Raising the topic of substance use with older adults requires delicate conversations, and motivational interviewing is a well-established evidence-based practice designed for such interactions. The instructor is Scott Caldwell, a leading expert in the field and the SBIRT coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

On May 18, Caldwell will also teach Substance Use Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment, which covers the basics of the SBIRT model. Along with learning how to use the screening tool with older adults, participants will develop skills in motivational interviewing and in identifying depression and cognitive impairment. They will also see how motivational interviewing can serve as a behavioral-change tool.

Licensed providers who successfully finish the April 20 and May 18 workshops will receive a state-issued certificate that makes them eligible to bill for delivery of SBIRT services.

older woman with hands over her face

All three workshops will be held at the UW Pyle Center from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

The elephant in the room

To spread the word about this important training, Continuing Studies is collaborating with the Wisconsin Institute of Healthy Aging. Waters Castillo hopes to reach people who work in aging and disability resource centers, county social service agencies, and aging networks across the state.

“We can no longer ignore the impact of substance use problems in late life,” she says. “A 2015 state of Wisconsin report noted that 85 percent of the alcohol-related deaths due to falls were people 65 and older. It is time to acknowledge the elephant in the room.”

To learn more about the workshops or to register, see here. For information, contact Suzanna Waters Castillo at suzanna.castillo@wisc.edu, 608-263-3174.