Doctor’s should call ‘time’ on ageing bingers

Alcohol misuse is already a major problem facing our society as we continue to juggle with the limited resources we have to treat an increasing number of social issues.

Until now, however, it has always been the younger, arguably less responsible, binge drinkers in the pubs and clubs around city centres or the holiday beaches and resorts abroad that have attracted the most attention.

While alcohol has become by default the least regulated and cheapest ‘drug of choice’ publicly available, the evidence of alcohol misuse and its subsequent effects on partners and families has largely been viewed as a consequence of deprivation, ‘bad character’ or poor individual judgement.

Now a new report examining the anonymised health records of nearly 28,000 patients aged over 65 and living in the London Borough of Lambeth tells a slightly more complicated story.

This includes the earliest members of the ‘baby boomer’ generation, born just after the Second World War and witnesses, along with their immediate predecessors, to some of the greatest and most rapid changes and upheavals ever experienced by human beings.

This may go some way to explaining why one in every five of those reporting that they regularly drink alcohol (9,248) indicated that they drank more than the upper limit of what experts have defined as ‘safe’ rates of consumption.

A unit of alcohol is the equivalent of a half pint of beer or a small (125ml) glass of ordinary table wine.

Anything over 21 units a week for men or 14 units for women is regarded as excessive and potentially dangerous.

1,980 of the case histories of over-65s showed a regular intake over this limit.

In fact while the median level of consumption across the entire senior group was 6 units a week, the top 5 per cent drank more than double that 21 unit limit, the equivalent of a large bottle of scotch every week.

The dominant sub section within this group of excessive drinkers comprised white males under 70 with higher incomes and above average levels of education.

The research team from King’s College in London speculated that, as more baby boomers pass the age of 65 and older seniors die off, the proportion of heavy drinkers will increase.

Currently doctors seem unaware of this danger in their older patients unless a directly related health issue such as liver disease or trauma from falls or other accidents occur.

But heavy drinking can accelerate diabetes, damage kidney function, mask symptoms of other diseases and have a detrimental impact on mental health.

Of course it’s not clear yet whether the seniors of Lambeth are entirely representative of the whole country, but if this does turn out to be an indication of a trend it may well prove no easier to encourage moderation and abstinence among those who feel they have earned the right to spend their retirement in any way they wish as it has been to instil responsibility into the young.

It reminds me of the old routine; “My doctor said my drinking was killing me and told me to stop. ‘Will that make me live longer?’ I asked. ‘No’, he said, ‘but it will certainly feel like it’.



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Berganet 24_08_15
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