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Older people and alcoholism

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Posted on 10th September 2012.

by Dr Rekha Elaswarapu, advisor to Helping Hands

BBC panorama is covering the issue of alcohol misuse among older people. Joan Bakewell, the government’s former voice of older people, investigates the hidden problem of alcohol abuse in her generation and talks about her own social drinking habits.

Drinking habits and the leading misuse has been of great concern for many years. What starts off as a recreational drink can soon become an addiction and many older people are known to suffer from health related consequences.

Many older people who live alone drink to reduce loneliness. ‘The loss of friends, personal bereavement, sudden redundancy or retirement, loneliness and isolation can all feel like good reasons to reach for the bottle.”I met several such people and heard their stories” says Joan in the programme to be aired on Monday 10th September 2012.

Often drinking problems are associated with younger people but the drink related problems faced by older people remain within the four walls of their home and never comes into focus.

Whilst social drinking within allowed limits is perfectly acceptable, excessive consumption of alcohol can affect every part of the body by hampering the function of our organs such as :

  • The stomach lining causing ulcers or bleeding
  • The liver causing cirrhosis and liver failure
  • Heart muscle causing heart failure and  breathlessness
  • Cancer  of the mouth, stomach and liver
  • Malnutrition and dehydration  which in turn could lead to urinary infections and skin related problems
  • Sense of balance leading to  falls and accidents
  • Blackouts or fits
  • Stroke
  • Poor sleep causing day-time tiredness.

In addition it can cause mental health problems such as anxiety, confusion and depression and even dementia in some cases. The challenges for GPs in identifying these problems are that older people don’t talk about this due to embarrassment or putting the symptoms down to old age.

There is a lot of help available for older people with drink problems. The first thing to do if there are concerns is to mention it to the GP or other health professional.

Helping Hands live in carers not only can reduce the loneliness, support in bereavement and keep a watchful eye on older peoples drinking habits they can also enable them to live a life that is fulfilling and enabling.

Sally Tomkotowicz