Alarm raised over number of pensioners drinking to excess

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AN ALARMING number of people over the age of 65 are drinking alcohol at unsafe levels, health experts have said after they conducted a study which found one
in five is drinking unhealthy amounts.

Experts say the Baby Boomer generation represent an ever-increasing population of older people drinking at levels that pose a risk to their health.

Their findings suggest that elderly white people are more at risk of excessive drinking than ethnic minorities and those who are wealthy and better educated are more at risk than people from more deprived backgrounds.

Their research, which analysed people’s health records in one borough council area found unsafe drinkers were more likely to be male, younger and have higher socioeconomic status.

Men were more likely to be unsafe drinkers than women – 46 per cent of people in the study were male, but they were 60 per cent of the drinkers and 65 per cent of the unsafe drinkers.

Alcohol drinkers were also more likely to be white or Irish, while people from Caribbean, African or Asian ethnicities were less likely to drink.

The research has been carried out by academics at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. They looked at the health records of people living in Lambeth, south London, an ethnically diverse area.

Because the findings rely on patients giving details of their drinking habits to their GP, it is likely many under-report their consumption, which also means the true levels are bound to be much higher.

Unsafe levels were defined as more than 21 units of alcohol for men and 14 units for women each week. The research, published in BMJ Open, saw the electronic GP health records of nearly 28,000 people in the borough analysed. Lead author Dr Tony Rao said: “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.

“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.”

The median alcohol consumption was six units per week for all over-65s who reported drinking. The top five per cent of alcohol drinkers reported consuming more than 49 units per week for men and more than 23 units per week for women.

Study author Dr Mark Ashworth 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 a big burden on our health system.

“Alcohol excess carries additional risks in the older population such as falls and confusion. 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.”

Last year Sheffield University academic Dr Lucy Gell was among the authors of a report on alcohol consumption in the over 50s internationally.

One issue it highlighted was that older generations have seen alcohol consumption become more socially acceptable as they have got older.

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