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Problem drinking ‘hits elderly’

Alcohol misuse in people aged over 60 is becoming a widespread problem, research suggests.

A survey for charity Foundation66 found over one in eight (13%) admitted to drinking more following retirement.

Of these, one in five (19%) uses alcohol because of depression, and one in eight (13%) drinks to deal with bereavement.

The charity is urging government to fund more services to tackle problem drinking among older people.

The survey of 857 people aged 60 and over also found that one in eight (12%) older drinkers is most likely to drink alone at home.

A separate poll carried out for the charity revealed widespread concern over the issue, with one in 10 adults worried about the amount of alcohol consumed by a friend or family member aged 60 or over.

The dangers of alcohol are increased among older drinkers, particularly because of medication, frailty, and other health problems.

Heavy drinking is associated with a raised risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and dementia.

And drinking too much can also lead to falls – which are more likely to seriously injure an older person.

Pensioners accounted for 357,300 alcohol-related hospital admissions in England in 2007/8 – a 75% rise in five years.

Sally Scriminger, chief executive of Foundation66, said: “The older people we see with drink problems come from all walks of life.

“Many are retired professionals, who never had issues with alcohol in the past.

“They don’t even have to leave home to buy alcohol – supermarket delivery services will bring it straight to their door.

“Because they don’t fit the stereotypes people hold about alcohol misuse, and because they often keep their drinking hidden, there just aren’t enough services out there to offer them the help they need.

“Without urgent intervention this will become a major issue, costing the NHS and our society a great deal.”

Way of coping

Last year Foundation66 piloted a project to provide help to older drinkers in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Demand was so heavy that the scheme is now being rolled out in a neighbouring area.

Helen, 75, a retired magistrate from London, started drinking heavily after she stopped working and was looking after her disabled husband.

On average, she was drinking a bottle of vodka and two or three glasses of wine every day.

She was referred to Foundation66 by her GP after going to him about another health issue.

She said: “I hadn’t prepared myself for retirement and found the loss of status hard to bear.

“My husband’s illness added to the strain, and my own health stated to deteriorate. Drinking was just a way of coping.

“My counsellor helped me understand the dangers it posed, and with their support I’ve dramatically reduced the amount I drink.”

Social isolation

Don Shenker, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Concern, said: “If the high number of older drinkers seems shocking, it’s because these are a group of drinkers who hide their problems in the home.

“Unfortunately, the figures are backed up by an increasing number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in older people in recent years.

“Social isolation, physical ill health, bereavement and a variety of social factors can play a part in an older person developing alcohol misuse problems and the associated health risks.

“Currently, some treatment services will not treat over 65s, and it can be difficult for older people to access appropriate treatment.

“The government needs to develop a strategy for reducing alcohol harm among older people, to identify those at risk and provide specialist treatment.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Alcohol is one of the most challenging public health issues we face and it affects people of all ages.

“We are working harder than ever to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions, and to help people of all ages who regularly drink too much or are dependent on alcohol.”

source: BBC News

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