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Alcohol abuse in the elderly - an 'age-old' problem

Published 23/02/2010

The phrase ‘Saga Lout' was first coined back in 2007 when Dr Peter Rice, an expert in alcohol abuse, identified the increasing problem of elderly binge drinkers. Recent results from the Office for National Statistics have shown that the problem of alcohol abuse amongst the elderly is increasingly a cause for concern. In fact, it reported that the 65+ age group had "the highest figure for proportion of people who drank every day (15 per cent)." It also showed that there is a correlation between an increase in age and alcohol consumption: "The proportion of people who drink every day rises as age group rises. For example, 1 per cent of men and women aged 16 to 24 had drunk every day during the previous week, compared with 20 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women aged 65 and over."

So, why are the elderly increasingly turning to the drink? Sue Allchurch, director of Linwood Group, explains further: "The elderly of today are drinking far more than the generation before them. This can in part be explained by the fact that drinking in the home has become more socially acceptable over the past 30 years and that the comparative price of wine, beer and spirits has fallen significantly. In addition, home delivery services are now making it even easier to buy alcohol discretely.

"Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism when a person faces stress and for the elderly this can be anything from dealing with social isolation, ill health or bereavement to simply a change in lifestyle following retirement. The reason that the media has been slow to pick up on this growing trend of alcohol abuse in the elderly is that the majority drink in the privacy of their own homes, rather than publicly in the pubs and clubs."

Results from a survey commissioned by Foundation66, found that out of the 800+ over 60's questioned ‘13% said they drank more after retirement, despite the risks to their health'. So, why are alcohol and elderly consumers such a bad mix? Well, not only does a person's capacity to tolerate alcohol deteriorate with age, but the dangers of alcohol are increased among older drinkers, particularly because of medication, frailty, and other health problems. The Department of Health recommends that men and women should not regularly drink more than 21 units and 14 units respectively of alcohol a week; exceeding these limits means that older people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-induced memory problems and dementia. In addition, heavy drinking is associated with a raised risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and certain cancers.

As drinking tends to be carried out in the privacy of the home and there are so few services set up specifically for late-onset drinking problems, the elderly might find it difficult to admit they have a drink problem or even see that their ‘harmless glass of wine' every day might be doing more damage than good. If asked, they would most likely say that they were social drinkers, and yet could not imagine dinner or a bad day without alcohol. If you are unsure if that drink or two you, or a loved one, is having are becoming a damaging habit, Sue Allchurch recommends the following: "Keep an alcohol diary for a week or two and see just how much alcohol is actually being consumed. It will very soon become apparent by doing a diary, if that ‘odd' drink is a regular occurrence or not."

To help identify if your drinking is becoming a problem rather than a pleasure, the Linwood Group has set up a Traffic Light System. By checking through the symptoms, you will quickly be able to see whether you are on green, amber or red alert with your drinking levels. 

If you are worried about alcohol abuse in an elderly family member or friend, what can be done about it? The first step is to seek professional advice. This could be simply making an appointment with your GP to get help and advice, or it could be calling an approved treatment centre to talk through your issues and any possible treatment options. The first step is always the hardest, so make the choice today not to let alcohol steal yours or your family's health any longer and make that call.

For professional advice on managing a drinking problem, then why not call Linwood Group on Freephone 0800 066 4173 (or if you are calling from a mobile phone or from overseas, call 01226 698 054) to find out how to get help sooner?



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