Alcohol dependency can become a problem for a great many older people during retirement. The drastic lifestyle change that comes with retirement can lead to an increase in drinking and drink related medical problems.
Factors Leading to Increased Drinking in the Over 60s
Retirement can bring many lifestyle alterations with an excess of spare time being one of the major changes. Isolation and decreased social activity can also occur during the retirement years. Late onset drinking can also be caused by traumatic factors such as the death of a partner or spouse in later life leading to loneliness and depression. Alcohol may also be used as an anaesthetic for older people who are in pain due to long term illness. These are a few of the identified factors that can lead to increased drinking in later life.
Alcohol Issues and the Retired, UK Statistics
There has been very little research undertaken on alcohol problems and the elderly in the past. A recent study by the alcohol and drugs charity Foundation66 did show that late onset alcohol problems are increasing. A survey of 800 people over the age of 60 found that around 13% of the 800 increased their drinking after retiring. One in five of the 13% claimed the increase was due to depression and bereavement. One in ten of those surveyed claimed to drink alone. Figures also showed that 5 to 12% of men in their 60s had alcohol problems, significantly higher than the women surveyed.
The Hidden Danger with Drinking During Retirement
Many late onset drinkers have never had alcohol problems prior to reaching retirement age. It is very easy for retirees to slip into regular daily drinking without realising there is an actual problem. A reduced social circle can mean there is no one on hand to notice the increased drinking level. Older drinkers do not tend to drink and drive and there are not generally problems with offensives of this nature. Older people are not generally seen as the stereotype of victims of alcohol abuse and much of the drinking is undertaken at home, alone.
Drink Related Illnesses and the Elderly
One of the major problems with alcohol abuse and the elderly is the effect it can have on their well being. As people age the effects of alcohol are amplified. Drinking while taking medication can increase the effects of alcohol. Alcohol can also reduce the actual positive effects of the medication, which can increase the symptoms of the illness. Alcohol can actually increase bleeding in elderly people taking blood thinning medication.
Signs of Alcohol Issues and the Elderly
Spotting alcohol problems in the elderly can be difficult. Signs such as bruises from falls and disorientation can be taken as common problems with frailness and medical complaints. Signs to look out for can include:
- Signs of depression such as increased amount of sleep during the day
- Complaints of feeling tired; alcohol reduces the amount of sleep at night
- Isolation and a reluctance to leave the home and refusing visits from friends and family
- Increased amount of bruises and cuts through falls
- Loss of appetite or an increase in weight
- An increase in actual medical complaints
- Binge drinking at family gatherings or social events
- Drinking earlier in the day and increased tolerance to alcohol
- Avoiding or dismissing the subject of alcohol if questions are asked
Obtaining Help for Alcohol Dependency
Medical experts claim that there is a need in the UK for alcohol treatment programmes specifically designed for older people. The chances of successful treatment are likely to be higher if the age group is similar rather than a mixed age group. Older people with drinking problems are usually more receptive to counselling than younger people, especially over the short-term. Doctors will be able to provide information and advice on counselling programmes available in the local area.
Alcohol issues can occur at anytime throughout a person’s life. But retired people often have a number of additional emotional stresses that can trigger increased drinking. It may be difficult for friends and family to address this issue but help is available from counselling services. Early intervention is the best way to stop this problem from becoming a life threatening condition.