Many older people 'blasé about alcohol'
Published on 08 August 2013 11:30 AM
Lower safe drinking limits need to be set for older people, according to a new study funded by Age UK.
The research found that while binge drinking was rife among growing numbers of older people, many didn't consider themselves heavy drinkers, to have a problem or to be dependent on alcohol.
Researchers from Newcastle and Sunderland universities interviewed and held focus groups for men and women aged between 65 and 90 in a bid to find out why so many continue drinking unhealthy levels of alcohol.
At the moment the recommended safe levels of drinking are 14 units of alcohol a week for women and 21 for men.
But the study, published in the PLOS ONE journal, found many of those interviewed had a blasé attitude towards their alcohol intake and questioned health professionals who advised them to cut down.
One woman told researchers although she drank a bottle of wine every day - 63 units of alcohol per week - she did not have a problem as it didn't have a big effect on her.
She said: 'If somebody found me in the corner drunk that would probably shock me into stopping but that has never happened.'
Others admitted downing 5 or 6 pints of beer but claimed their intake wasn't a problem as they hadn't suffered any immediate adverse effects.
Drinking levels affecting long-term health
Dr Graeme Wilson, of Newcastle University's Institute of Health and Society, led the study, which was organised through the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. He said: 'Many older people are drinking to a level that is having a long-term impact on their health, even if the damage they are doing is not always immediately apparent.'
Previous studies have indicated that more than a quarter (28%) of men and 14% of women aged over 65 drink alcohol more than 5 times a week. Heavy drinking among the over 65 age group is linked with depression, anxiety and long-term health problems.
And with metabolism slowing down with ageing and many older people more likely to be taking prescribed medicines that can adversely interact with alcohol, the habit can have a bigger impact on their lives than those of younger people who drink heavily.
'A growing and serious problem'
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK commented: 'Whilst the spotlight on excessive drinking generally falls on younger people, the most significant increases in alcohol-related harm are actually in older age groups, with people aged 65 and over also reporting the highest rates of drinking on five or more days a week.
'The numbers of alcohol-related hospital admissions, illnesses and mental health disorders among older people are on the rise and we know that heavy drinking in later life is often connected to other issues and problems, for example bereavement, loneliness and isolation.
'It's time that excessive drinking in older age is recognised as a growing and serious problem and that appropriate and effective preventative and treatment services are made available.'
Copyright Press Association 2013