An alarming number of over-65s in Britain are drinking alcohol at unsafe levels, health experts have said after they conducted a study which found one in five are drinking unhealthy amounts.
Academics at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London said the Baby Boomer generation represent an ever-increasing population of older people drinking at levels that pose a risk to their health.
Their research, which analysed the health records of people living in the Borough of Lambeth in London, found unsafe drinkers were more likely to be male, younger and have higher socioeconomic status – those who were wealthier and better educated tended to be heavier drinkers than those from a more deprived background.
Men were more likely to be unsafe drinkers than women – 46% of people in the study were male, but they were 60% of the drinkers and 65% 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. Lambeth’s ethnically diverse populations means that other parts of the country are likely to have far higher numbers of heavy drinking over-65s.
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 5% 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, from the Division of Health and Social Care Research at King’s College London, 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 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 rather than those from a more deprived background.”