TOO MUCH , TOO OLD ?
We need to tackle issues around older people ’ s drinking with a strong public health campaign , heard the drugs , alcohol and justice parliamentary group
If we don ’ t act , we ’ ll see a significant public health issue ,’ said Julie Breslin , head of Drink Wise , Age Well , a programme that ran for five years with funding from the National Lottery Community Fund to bring together partnerships , research and learning for long-term strategy . She was sharing results from the work with older adults , and the headline issue was the extent to which they were drinking at levels that were harmful to their physical and mental health .
While there were benefits to drinking in moderation – relaxation and ( normally ) social cohesion – the programme found low knowledge of units and guidance on safe drinking levels . ‘ As we age , we ’ re less able to metabolise alcohol and are also more likely to be on medications that interact ,’ said Breslin . Taking account of other issues that went hand in hand with getting older – such as menopausal symptoms or a lack of balance that made falls more likely – furthered the need for scrutiny .
TRIGGERS FOR DRINKING Data from 3,600 participants in the Drink Wise , Age Well programme revealed that 80 per cent of people drank at home alone and 55 per cent had one or more health conditions . The top three triggers for drinking were bereavement , relationship issues and loss of purpose : 85 per cent reported depression , 75 per cent anxiety and 22 per cent were taking medication for mental health issues . More than half said they felt lonely or isolated – and 72 per cent said they had felt that life was not worth living .
It was important to respond to this in a holistic way , suggested Breslin , and a key part of this was increasing resilience , ‘ in three domains – individual , social and environmental ’, which would help people to adapt positively to stressful life circumstances . ‘ It ’ s important in older age as it can be a challenging time of life , with retirement , bereavement and reduced physical mobility ,’ she said .
POSITIVE NEWS The positive news was that people who had taken part in ‘ resilience interventions ’ had experienced ‘ dramatic improvements in emotional health , sense of purpose and relationships ,’ she said . Many also reported that their alcohol use had reduced . After the programme it was recorded that 74 per cent of participants had improved their wellbeing , which showed that ‘ multiple levels of support are really important ’.
One of the major challenges for us all was that ‘ this group go below the radar ’, with alcohol problems less likely to be identified in older people . ‘ Many have high levels of
People who had taken part in ‘ resilience interventions ’ had experienced ‘ dramatic improvements in emotional health , sense of purpose and relationships ’.
undiagnosed cognitive impairment , which can make it difficult for them to engage with and benefit from treatment ,’ said Breslin .
INCLUSION STRATEGY The COVID effect was making people even more difficult to find . ‘ Remote support should be provided in addition to other services ,’ she said , as part of a strategy of digital inclusion – providing access to the internet , technology and training to older service recipients , as well as telephone helplines .
These action points needed to be written into future government alcohol strategies , leading to tailored solutions for ageing populations . ‘ We want to see public health campaigns to raise awareness around alcohol harms and ageing ,’ she said .
Participants at the parliamentary group meeting were unanimous in their support for a proactive public health approach – which needed to include full consideration of cultural variation and need . They agreed that the data demonstrated the level of the problem – particularly the clear link between drinking and loneliness and with mental health issues . The question was , what could treatment providers be doing about it right now ?
The second part of the meeting of the of the Drugs , Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group explored research relating to alcohol , violence , and anti-social behaviour . We will be looking at this in our March issue .
16 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • FEBRUARY 2021 WWW . DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS . COM