June 22, 2011

UK: Call to cut alcohol limits for over-65s

EDINBURGH, Scotland / HeraldScotland / June 22, 2011

By Helen Puttick, Health Correspondent

DRINKING limits should be slashed for over-65s because of the effects of ageing, according to a doctors’ report urging more action to tackle alcohol and drug misuse among the elderly.

Separate guidance on safe drinking levels for over-65s should be issued by the Government as recommended limits are based on younger adults and are too high for older people, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said.

Evidence showed the upper safe limit for older men is 1.5 units of alcohol a day, the college said, compared with the current threshold of three to four units. The advice for women aged over 65 should change from two to three units to just one unit a day, said Dr Tony Rao, a consultant in old-age psychiatry and a member of the working group that drew up the report. He said: “As we age, there are other factors, such as memory problems and physical health problems, and less of an ability to get rid of alcohol from the blood stream.

“This means the effects of what we would currently call the safe limits are more damaging for older people.”

Called Our Invisible Addicts, the report says the UK is witnessing a “burgeoning” public health problem in the form of growing alcohol and drug misuse among the “baby boomer” generation. It says issues include misuse of prescribed and over-the-counter medicines as well as alcohol abuse.

One-third of older people with alcohol problems develop them in later life, often as a result of changes such as retirement or bereavement, or feelings of boredom, loneliness and depression, said the report.

It recommends screening by GPs for substance misuse among the over-65s, as part of a routine health check.

Professor Ilana Crome, addiction expert and chairman of the working group, said: “The traditional view is that alcohol misuse is uncommon in older people, and that misuse of drugs is rare. However, this is simply not true. A lack of awareness means GPs and other healthcare professionals often overlook the signs when someone has a problem.”

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “We should remember older people often turn to alcohol in later life as a coping mechanism.”

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