Alcohol misuse amongst older people

Incidents of alcohol-related illness, hospital admissions and mental health disorders have all increased in the older population. Alcohol represents a growing problem for older people, their families and carers and for public services.

The data shows that:

  • It is estimated that over 1.4 million (or over 14 per cent) of older men and women in the UK drink over safe limits
  • People aged over 65+ report the highest rates of drinking alcohol 5 or more days per week
  • In England in 2012/13 there were more admissions to hospital of people aged 65+ for alcohol-related injuries and illness than of 16 to 24 year olds200x160_pint_of_beer_main

Many of the factors that can influence alcohol intake are magnified in later life and mainly stem from social isolation and loneliness, which can be triggered by factors such as a bereavement, retirement or redundancy.

For the NHS, alcohol misuse costs an estimated £3.17 billion each year and represents a significant public health challenge.  In 2010/2011, the cost of alcohol-related inpatient admissions in England for 55 to 74 year olds was £825.6 million, compared to £63.8 million for 16 to 24 year olds.

A number of our local partners are delivering a range of services to people in later life to tackle some of the core issues like isolation and loneliness that are known to trigger late onset drinking. These help to improve resilience, independence and confidence.

Age UK’s Fit as a Fiddle programme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Wellbeing Programme, helps to support and encourage exercise and healthy eating in later life. Delivered through our network of local partners, it is one example of how the right support can help older people tackle alcohol misuse.

Alf, 56, joined the Fit as a Fiddle programme because he felt he was drinking too much. Before taking part in the project Alf drank alcohol most days, either in his room or at the estate bar. The project, which included social and practical activities such as gardening, impacted upon Alf’s state of mind, helping him to feel more mentally alert and active.

Before taking part in the project Alf felt lethargic, but after the project he began to feel much more positive. The gardening gave Alf the motivation he needed to come out of his room giving him something to do and making him feel less depressed.

We believe that to support older people in dealing with alcohol issues the appropriate advice and support, either treatment or preventative, must be available and accessible to older people so that they are able to make informed lifestyle choices.  As part of this, it is essential to address underlying issues such as isolation and loneliness and ensure availability of the right support at times of critical life changes.

Find out more about healthy living in our information and advice guide 

Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

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