Face-to-face contact with older service users essential, study finds

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Older people can struggle accessing online support.

Face-to-face contact with older adults receiving alcohol treatment is crucial, according to a survey commissioned by We Are With You.

Services moving online or over the phone have presented ‘huge barriers and challenges’ for older adults – particularly around online support – researchers found.

The study was carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Bedfordshire, and included interviews with both service users and staff across urban and rural areas. It looked at the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns on older service users, their rates of alcohol consumption and how services had adapted to support them, as well as the long-term implications for service provision.

Among the report’s recommendations are to maintain accessible and flexible telephone support, strengthen links with community health and social care services to stop people falling between services, and to make sure that remote service provision was provided ‘in addition to rather than instead of’ face-to-face support. Older adults who wanted to engage online should be supported to do so, it adds, with services likely to see increasing levels of demand.

‘Most of the service users expressed a clear preference and need for face-to-face support,’ said Dr Paulina Trevena, a researcher in Glasgow Caledonian University’s department of nursing and community health. ‘It helps combat loneliness, a frequent reason behind drinking in older age, and facilitates a better understanding of alcohol interventions, particularly for those with speech or hearing impairments. The results of this study are important for the future because there is a general move towards putting more health services online or via phone calls but this research shows that with older adults face-to-face support is essential and remote support cannot be used instead of face-to-face meetings.’

We Are With You recently launched a free, confidential helpline for people over 50 who may be worried about their drinking (DDN, December/January pages 5 and 8) as well as re-launching its Drink Wise, Age Well website at www.drinkwiseagewell.org.uk

 Addressing the needs of older adults receiving alcohol treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative study at www.wearewithyou.org.uk