We tend to think that problem drinking is an issue for the young, but we now know that this is a far bigger issue for people as they get older. It is estimated that 1 in 3 adults aged over 65 with an alcohol problem will have developed this in later life. Changes such as retirement, bereavement, and isolation can be triggers, and research shows that many older people are over-drinking and often at home on their own. As we age, we become more vulnerable to the harm that can be caused by problem drinking. The result is that hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions have more than doubled in less than a decade.
Drink Wise Age Well is an organisation which aims to help people make healthier choices about drinking as they get older. It also urges everyone to be aware of possible problems among older family members - particularly if they have recently been affected by any of the changes in life experience and circumstances that can cause older people to drink more alcohol.
These include retirement, medical problems, changes in routine, or loss and bereavement. Many older people may experience other challenges such as changing financial circumstances, housing difficulties, or moving into residential care. The nature of relationships can also change – for example, becoming a carer for a spouse can change life circumstances quite significantly.
Isolation and loneliness can increase as social networks change. To cope, some people may start drinking more, often at home and often alone.
For younger family members, it can be difficult to tell if a loved one is drinking too much and whether this will affect their health. In all age groups, the majority of alcohol problems remain undiagnosed, but alcohol problems are even less likely to be detected in older adults.
Older people with alcohol problems are often ashamed of their alcohol use and may be more likely to try to hide it. The signs can also be difficult to notice. For example, things like confusion or falls are often wrongly attributed to ageing rather than drinking too much.
Drink Wise Age Well says there are a number of signs which may indicate a person is drinking alcohol to the extent that it is causing them problems. They say it is important to be aware if an older relative or friend has become more isolated, stopped doing activities they previously enjoyed, or seemed to have changed in their home environment, personal appearance or general demeanour.
If you have concerns over someone close to you, visit http://drinkwiseagewell.org.uk for useful advice on identifying problem drinking and how to deal with it.
If you or the person you are concerned about lives in any of the 5 Drink Wise Age Well areas, you can call the local help lines for advice and practical support:
Sheffield: 0800 032 3723
Devon: 0800 304 7034
Glasgow: 0800 304 7690
Cwm Taf, Wales: 0800 161 5780