Do more elderly people now have a drinking problem?
The notion of elderly people drinking to excess may seem a tad far-fetched to some; after all, it is those in their late teens to early 20s that are usually considered to be the heaviest drinkers. However, a new study published in the journal BMJ Open, had made the shocking discovery that many senior citizens are in fact drinking too much alcohol, placing them in danger of serious health issues. Researchers involved in the study looked at older adults in Britain, finding that one in five people over the age of 65 are consuming alcohol at “unsafe” levels – as in drinking in excess of the national guidelines of no more than 21 units of alcohol per week for men and 14 units for women. A unit of alcohol equates to a small (125 ml) glass of wine. For the purpose of the study, the researchers assessed the anonymous electronic health records from a sample of 27,991 people living in a certain area of London. They discovered that of the 9,248 older people who had reported consuming alcohol, 1,980 (21% of the 9,248) of them had done so at unsafe levels. Results demonstrated that those consuming excessive amounts of alcohol were more likely to be male, at the younger end of the age group, and have a higher socioeconomic status. “As the Baby Boomer generation become seniors, they represent an ever increasing population of older people drinking at levels that pose a risk to their health,” Dr. Tony Rao, lead author from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London, commented in a statement. “This study shows the need for greater awareness of the potential for alcohol related harm in older people, particularly those of higher socio-economic status, who may suffer the consequences of ill health from alcohol at an earlier age than those in previous generations.” Alcohol consumption for those who reported drinking was found to be at an average of about six units per week – around 3 glasses of whiskey. However, the top 5% of drinkers admitted to consuming over 49 units per week for men (equivalent to a bottle of whiskey) and more than 23 units per week for women. According to the researchers, unsafe levels of drinking was a lot more common within the white British and Irish population, in comparison to people from Caribbean, African or Asian ethnic groups. Dr Mark Ashworth, study author from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King's College London said: ‘This research highlights that as GPs we need be more aware of the risk of older people, especially men, drinking excessively. “Reducing alcohol misuse is important to prevent premature death and serious negative health effects, such as alcoholic liver disease, which are big burden on our health system. Alcohol excess carries additional risks in the older population such as falls and confusion.” Dr Ashworth added: “Based on our findings, the elderly who were most at risk were those from the white British population rather than from an ethnic minority, and those who were wealthier and better educated rather than those from a more deprived background.” Alcohol and more specifically – alcohol abuse – has a catastrophic effect on not only the drinker’s own health, but on their loved one’s lives, and impacts the wider society too. Some worrying stats on alcohol include: . The number of older people between the ages of 60 and 74 admitted to hospitals in England with mental and behavioural disorders associated with alcohol use has risen by over 150% in the past ten years, while the figure for 15-59 years old has increased by 94%. . Alcohol is 10% of the UK burden of disease and death, making alcohol one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity. . More than 9 million people in England drink more than the recommended daily limits. . Alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver; and depression. . In 2012 there were 8,367 alcohol-related deaths in the UK . Males accounted for approximately 65% of all alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2012. . In England and Wales, 63% of all alcohol-related deaths in 2012 were caused by alcoholic liver disease. . Alcohol now costs the NHS £3.5bn per year; equal to £120 for every tax payer. . Alcohol misuse costs England around £21bn per year in healthcare, crime and lost productivity costs.