A leading doctor has suggested that Britain faces a potential timebomb owing to the excessive drinking of elderly people.
Dr Tony Rao, Britain’s leading expert on older people’s drinking, believes that a cocktail of serious illnesses such as dementia, brain damage and a liver disease are set to increase in elderly people.
“The number of older people drinking unsafely and unhealthily is rising at an alarming rate, putting their health at risk and further strain on NHS services,” Rao stated.
Figures indicate that the number of elderly people being admitted to hospitals in England continues to increase significantly.
More older people are admitted to hospital in England every year for mental and behavioural disorders related to alcohol use (11,373) than for alcohol-related liver disease (9,890).
The number of 60 to 74-year-olds treated as in-patients for mental and behavioural disorders – including alcohol dependence and alcohol withdrawal – has almost doubled over the past decade, from 5,074 in 2005-06 to 9,492 in 2014-15.
Among those aged 75 and older, the figure has risen from 1,265 to 1,881 over the same period. Both increases far outstrip the growth in the elderly population.
The proportion of admissions among those aged over 60 for alcohol-related disorders, has also risen from 13 to 17% over the same period.
Clearly the drinking culture of the United Kingdom also extends to the over 65 age group, and this is potentially a massive problem, not only for individuals themselves, but also the health service system.
And these figures will certainly be seen in the context of the recent government guidance on alcohol consumption.
After a major review, the Conservative government has recently suggested that every individual should refrain from drinking for at least a couple of days per week.
It has also been opined that no amount of alcohol consumption should be considered truly safe.
“Alcohol-related memory problems are grossly under-reported and mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Rao, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
“Ten years ago I would have been treating no more than three people at any one time for alcohol-related brain damage. Now there are at least 10 patients with that in the service I work in.”
While the Department of Health has acknowledged the problem, it is also generally believed by experts that this is a difficult issue to tackle directly.
While there is some awareness among the population that alcohol is dangerous, the substance is such an ingrained part of the culture of the United Kingdom that encouraging older people to cut down on drinking is extremely difficult.
Indeed, there is already significant information available via the NHS, the problem is actually incentivising individuals to pay heed to this data.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Drinking too much alcohol at any age can be hazardous for our health. As part of the free NHS health checks for 40 to 74-year-olds, people get advice and information to help them to cut down if they need to.”