Older people do not always recognise themselves as heavy drinkers according to a new study, which has led academics to call for safer drinking level guidelines.
Drinking awareness has been urged by academics
Academics from Newcastle University feel the government need to review the recommended safe drinking guidelines for over 65s and that alcohol advice should be more accessible to the elderly.
The study, co-ordinated by both Newcastle and Sunderland Universities, investigated the reasons why older people continue to drink beyond the safe levels and damage their health.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE and was led by Dr Graeme Wilson from the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University.
Interviews and focus groups were set up with more than 50 men and women aged between 65 and 90 years. The aim was to identify why many of their age group drink unhealthy levels of alcohol and the attitudes to hazardous drinking.
At present, the government advises that women and men should be drinking no more than 14 and 21 unites of alcohol a week respectively.
Many of those interviewed had a very relaxed view on a high alcohol intake and were dubious of the recommended safe drinking levels proposed by health practitioners.
Dr Wilson 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.”
According to government statistics from 2011, 28% of men and 14% of women both over the age of 65 now drink more than five times a week.
Heavy drinking is strongly linked to depression, anxiety and long term health problems such as liver failure. In this age group, the use of prescribed medication is more likely and these can have adverse effects when combined with alcohol, presenting the drinker with more health complications.
Some drinkers were driven to drink by chronic pain, bereavement and loneliness but some also saw drinking as a positive way to socialise and relax with friends and family.
Dr Catherine Haighton, a co-author on the study, feels more is needed to help older people understand the impact of drinking and make information more accessible.
Dr Haighton said: “Alcohol interventions are not working for older people for many reasons. A lot of those we interviewed said the messages around alcohol were very confusing.
“There is a need to develop new approaches to target the older population, for example longer in-home support, tailored information on the risks from alcohol in later life, or health workers with specific training on older people’s needs.
“We also think the Government really needs to start looking at lowering the recommended limit for alcohol consumption in those over 65.”
The study was arranged via Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health and was funded by Age UK.
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