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Call for lower recommended drinking limits for pensioners

Researchers have called for lower recommended safe levels of drinking for UK pensioners following a study that found excessive alcohol consumption is a problem for the age group.

A team of academics from North East England universities have said safe drinking limits should be lowered
A team of academics from North East England universities have said safe drinking limits should be lowered

The study, by academics at Newcastle and Sunderland universities, looked at why many people over the age of 65 consumed ‘hazardous’ levels of alcohol and explored the group’s attitudes towards drinking.

A group of 53 men and women between the ages of 65 and 90 from the north east of England were interviewed, with researchers finding that many people did not realise they drank excessively.

Dr Graeme Wilson, at the Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, who led the study, said: “Many older people are drinking to a level that is having a long-term impact on their health, even if the damage they are doing is not always immediately apparent.”

The team said that drinking alcohol can have a bigger impact on the lives of older people as they are more likely to take prescription medication that can interact with alcohol and are also more likely to suffer falls.

Chronic pain, loneliness and bereavement were also identified as factors likely to lead to heavier drinking in later life. Depression and anxiety were identified as a long term health problems heavy drinkers in the age group are likely to suffer.

The Office of National Statistics released figures showing older drinking is a worsening problem. In England, 28% of men over 65 years and 14% of women over 65 now drink alcohol more than five times per week.

Folowing the recent study, researchers have also called for special alcohol advice to be made available to older people.

Dr Katie Haighton, also at the Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, said: “Alcohol interventions are not working for older people for many reasons. A lot of those we interviewed said the messages around alcohol were very confusing.

“There is a need to develop new approaches to target the older population, for example longer in-home support, tailored information on the risks from alcohol in later life, or health workers with specific training on older people’s needs.”

Currently, the recommended safe levels of drinking are 14 units a week for women and 21 for men.

The study, entitled ‘A Qualitative Study of Alcohol, Health and Identities Among UK Adults in Later Life’, was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

It was organised through Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health, and was funded by Age UK.

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