Public health experts think heavy drinking among the elderly is a hidden problem in the UK, and that many do not understand that the older you are, the less able your body is to cope with large amounts of alcohol.
Elderly people have much slower metabolisms which means the toxic chemicals released upon drinking alcohol linger for longer in the body.
Current recommended safe levels of drinking are 21 units a week for men and 14 for women. It has now been suggested that the safe alcohol limit guidelines for pensioners should be halved.
A study by researchers from Newcastle and Sunderland Universities has claimed that older people who drink hazardous amounts of alcohol refuse to admit they have a problem because they don’t believe they’re dependant on the substance.
Academics spoke to 53 men and women aged between 65 and 90 to find out more about their habits and attitudes towards drinking. The aim of the study was to find out why so many people of that particular age group continue to drink large amounts of alcohol despite the health warnings.
Many of those who were interviewed appeared complacent about high alcohol consumption and remained sceptical of GPs who warned them to cut down.
One particular woman said she consumed a bottle of wine every day, which works out at 63 units a week – over three times the recommended amount. However, she said she didn’t see it as a problem because the wine had little effect on her.
“If somebody found me in the corner drunk that would probably shock me into stopping but that has never happened,” she said.
Study leader Dr Graeme Wilson said that even if alcohol doesn’t seem to have any big immediate effects, it can have a detrimental impact in the long term.
Many of those questioned said they saw drinking as a positive thing; a way to relax and socialise with friends and family. Others drank to manage issues such as chronic pain, loneliness and bereavement.
Dr Katie Haighton has suggested that new, clearer measures need to be in place to prevent elderly people from drinking heavily. Tailored information on the risks involved, longer in-home support and better trained health workers were just some of the ideas, along with the suggestion that the government should lower the recommended alcohol consumption limit for the over 65s.
If you think you have a drinking problem, you can always speak to a counsellor to get to grips with your habits. Find out more by visiting our Alcoholism page.
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