UNSW Scientia Fellow at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), Dr Louise Mewton, has been awarded $20,000 from the UNSW-USyd Visible Partnership in Mental Health, Addiction and Neuroscience Research Seed Funding Scheme.
With alcohol use increasingly being understood as a significant but ‘hidden’ problem for older Australians, this funding will allow Dr Mewton to adapt and pilot an online prevention program for risky drinking in older adults.
The research, conducted in conjunction with collaborators from the University of Sydney, also aims to understand risky alcohol use in older adults.
“National statistics indicate that Australians in their 60s are now the most likely age group to exceed single occasion risky drinking guidelines on at least 5 days per week and the most likely age group to drink daily,” said Dr Mewton.
“Alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisations have also increased in recent decades among older Australians.”
Dr Mewton explains that while lifelong patterns of harmful alcohol use often begin in young adulthood, almost a third of older adults who drink at harmful levels initiated this harmful use in later life.
“Despite these worrying statistics, alcohol use in older adults remains under-studied and under-treated,” says Dr Mewton.
“There is a critical need to develop alcohol prevention programs that are scalable, effective and tailored to the specific needs of older adults.”
Dr Mewton and CHeBA Co-Director Professor Perminder Sachdev have partnered with leaders in the development of internet-delivered alcohol prevention programs at the Matilda Centre, University of Sydney, to pilot a brief online alcohol prevention program adapted for the specific needs of older adults. This project also involves collaborations with St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and the Sydney Local Health District to ensure that the prevention program is relevant to older adults in the community and translatable into clinical practice.
By developing an online prevention program, the researchers hope to overcome many of the barriers to treatment-seeking for risky alcohol use in older adults. Internet delivery allows individuals to complete the program in their own home at their own pace and has the potential to reach larger numbers of people, including those in regional and remote areas.
“Our own research has shown that online interventions for conditions like depression and anxiety are effective and acceptable for older adults. We now want to extend this to risky drinking in the community,” said Dr Mewton.
The UNSW-USyd funding is the most recent accolade for Dr Mewton, who has previously received a NSW Young Tall Poppy Award, as well as early career research awards from the largest national and international drug and alcohol professional societies. In 2019, she joined CHeBA to take up her prestigious UNSW Scientia Fellowship under the mentorship of Professor Sachdev.
CHeBA’s Co-Directors Professor Sachdev and Professor Henry Brodaty congratulated Dr Mewton on her success.
“Excessive alcohol use by older people is now out of the closet. This important research aims to find a way to prevent alcohol related morbidity. Older people need to be aware of the risks from alcohol excess to their cognitive function, physical health, the danger of falls and the interactions with diseases and medications,” said Professor Brodaty.
For more information about Dr Mewton’s research at CHeBA, visit https://cheba.unsw.edu.au/our-people/dr-louise-mewton.