One in five older people who drink alcohol are consuming it at unsafe levels, according to a UK study, sparking calls for more focus on the issue in primary care.
The research, by King’s College London and published in the journal BMJ Open, found men drinking over 21 units of alcohol per week and women drinking 14 units were more likely to be of higher socio-economic status.
“This research highlights that… we need be more aware of the risk of older people, especially men, drinking excessively”
The researchers looked at the GP records of 27,991 people aged 65 and over in the London Borough of Lambeth.
They identified 9,248 older people who had reported consuming alcohol, of which 1,980 drank at unsafe levels.
They found unsafe drinkers were more likely to be male, younger and have higher socio-economic status.
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.
Lead study author Dr Tony Rao said: “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.”
The median alcohol consumption was six units per week for all over-65s who reported drinking.
“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”
However, 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 called on primary care staff to 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,” he said.
“Alcohol excess carries additional risks in the older population such as falls and confusion,” said Dr Ashworth.
He 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.”
Patients of white ethnicity comprised 59% of the study population, but were 68% of those who reported drinking alcohol and 80% of the unsafe drinkers.
Meanwhile, those of Irish ethnicity made up 5% of the study population, but 6% of the alcohol drinkers and 8% of the unsafe drinkers.