How afraid we are of grey hair and wrinkles! We want to stay young forever, dreading the idea of growing old and becoming part of the elderly population.
This fear of old age is based on the belief that turning 60 means losing all independence and health. In other words, we do not usually see elders as productive individuals. Even when science tells us that most people are still strong and independent when they age; furthermore, older people can be productive in many ways as grandparents, workers, storytellers, volunteers…
It is evident that the way we view the senior population must change. It is crucial to adopt an optimistic view, highlighting the qualities and capabilities of this age group, such as wisdom and experience. A negative perspective not only encourages fear and isolation but also impedes prevention work with this age group.
It seems contradictory to do prevention work with older people when they are at the sunset of life; in fact, they are not often considered when talking about prevention. However, it is imperative to remember that the science of prevention focuses on developing different skills a person may need to adapt and adjust when transitioning to a different phase of life. Prevention is fundamental because when it is done effectively, it ensures the healthy and safe development of people, along with promoting positive relationships with their families and in their communities, and the realization of their talents and potential.
The way prevention works with elders is as with any other group. In other words, the goal is to help them develop resources to adapt to the challenges they face, like entering the retirement phase, experiencing illness, or overcoming the passing away of partners and friends. It is universally acknowledged that those difficulties could promote stress and even hopelessness, mainly because no one is prepared to face them. Nevertheless, with the proper resources, people can rise above and live healthy and happy lives.
Prevention analyzes risk and protective factors and uses science-based multi-component initiatives to help people, in this case, elders, develop or access the resources they need to adapt. These resources include coping mechanisms to deal with stress and grief, time management, community involvement, and many others. Prevention also includes improving environmental factors like housing, assistive technologies, or social facilities, promoting social connections, offering support, and helping them develop adaptive strategies.
As previously stated, there are many ways to implement prevention for elders. Two evidence-based strategies that can be implemented in any community are brief interventions and entertainment venues. It is important to remember that substance use is not a reason to stigmatize or isolate a person, and the initiatives created must be based on respect and compassion.
Brief interventions consist of short counseling sessions delivered by trained professionals like psychologists or social workers. These sessions have two main targets. The first one is to identify if a person has a substance use problem or assess the risk of developing it. After that, the professionals seek to provide immediate basic counseling to help someone with decision-making and goal setting. If necessary, they also refer the person to appropriate treatment.
The second evidence-based strategy, the creation of entertainment venues, the primary goal is to provide safe social meeting spaces where people of all ages can interact and create long-lasting and cherished connections. These gatherings can take place almost anywhere. A public library is the perfect meeting spot for a book or chess club. Community gardens can be installed in free outdoor spaces. A park can be used to teach or practice different sports like yoga or tai-chi. Other examples of entertainment venues include alcohol-free concerts, movie nights, or any game-oriented gathering like bingo.
It is important to emphasize that many effective initiatives developed to address substance use at any age are multi-component programs created for the community by its members. Everyone deserves access to these initiatives. These strategies can improve and preserve mental health and general well-being. We must not assume that the experience that comes with age equals proper resources to deal with life stressors and changes. Elders were once young and took care of us; it is our turn to protect them.
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