Study: 20% of older people in UK consuming unsafe levels of alcohol

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Alcohol consumption among older people in the UK is at alarming levels with one in five consuming alcohol at unsafe levels – it has been revealed.

King’s College London researchers reveal through their analysis of anonymised electronic GP health records of 27,991 people aged 65 and over in the Borough of Lambeth in London that in this group of people who are consuming unsafe levels – older men consume 21 units of alcohol while older women consume 14 units each week.

Researchers identified from these records that 9,248 older people had reported consuming alcohol and of these 1,980 people drank at unsafe levels. Based on their analysis, researchers suggest that unsafe drinkers were more likely to be male, who are younger and have higher socioeconomic status.

The study found that 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.

Dr Tony Rao, lead author from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London explains that as Baby Boomer generation gets older, they represent an ever increasing population of older people drinking at levels that pose a risk to their health.

Rao says that their study is sort of a warning call that advocates need for greater awareness about the potential of alcohol related harm in older people. Rao said that particular attention needs to be given to those who have a higher socio-economic status and this is the lot that may end up suffering from their unsafe alcohol consumption habits earlier than the rest of the crowd.

Based on the data at their disposal, researchers calculated the median alcohol consumption for all over-65s who reported drinking. This stood at 6 units per week, but the top 5 per cent of alcohol drinkers reported consuming a whopping 49 units per week or more for men and more than 23 units per week for women.

Dr Mark Ashworth, study author from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London said that these findings highlight the need for GPs to be more aware of the risk faced by older people, especially men, who are drinking excessively.

Researchers also found that if ethnicity is brought into the equation, alcohol drinkers were more likely to be White or Irish, while people from Caribbean, African or Asian ethnicities were less likely to drink.

People of White ethnicity were 59 per cent of the study population, but nearly 70 per cent of those who reported drinking alcohol and 80 per cent of the unsafe drinkers.

Dr Ashworth added: ‘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 rather than those from a more deprived background.’

The authors caution that results from inner-city London may not apply to other areas of the UK with different demographics. They also note that while the study contains an almost complete sample of older people in the area, people may have under-reported their alcohol consumption to their GP.