Fears pensioners ‘drinking themselves to death’

Concerns have been raised over the amount that some OAPs drink. Picture: Sean Bell

Concerns have been raised over the amount that some OAPs drink. Picture: Sean Bell

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PENSIONERS in Scotland are drinking themselves to death as doctors try to combat an “epidemic” of alcohol abuse amongst the elderly.

New figures reveal that hospitals across Scotland treated more than 10,000 patients aged over 60 for drink-related 
illnesses last year.

Alcohol related admissions for the over-65s have seen a 62 per cent increase in the last five years – making it much higher than amongst the young.

The rise is, in part, being blamed on so-called “baby boomers” who are moving into older age and drinking considerably more than previous generations.

There is now mounting pressure on the Scottish Government’s health strategy to shift its focus from the young to the old.

Studies by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, found about 1.4 million people aged 65 and over are exceeding the recommended daily limits of alcohol.

More of this age group, than any other, are drinking every day in spite of warnings from health experts to refrain for at least two days a week.

Official government figures showed last year, more than 10,437 Scots over 60 needed hospital treatment for alcohol- related illnesses and 84 per cent of these were emergency admissions. In contrast, there were 8061 under-35s taken to hospital for alcohol-related illness.

The figures reveal that more than half of all drink-related hospital admissions are aged over 50 and one in three are over 60. Older people are more sensitive to alcohol’s effects, increasing the chances of falls, and the liver becomes less efficient at breaking down alcohol with age.

The trend is not replicated south of the Border which suggests the problem of drinking amongst the older generation is greater is Scotland.

A spokesman for Age Scotland described it as of “real concern,” citing possible reasons as bereavement and isolation.

He said: “Older people are more likely to drink at home, every day and on their own, suggesting that some use it as “self-medication” to deal with life’s stresses – perhaps without an awareness of just how much they are drinking.”

It is estimated that one in five older men and one in ten older women drink enough to harm themselves, with pain, ill-health, disability and depression listed as causes. About a third of pensioners with a drink problem, particularly women, develop them for the first time in later life.

Another study found drinkers from Scotland’s poorest areas are six times more likely to end up in hospital than those from better-off parts of the country.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said alcohol abuse could merge with other health problems in older people, and ultimately lead to a spell in hospital. “While much of the focus remains on the binge drinking of the younger generation, we can’t forget that there are thousands in an older bracket who may be drinking dangerously too,” he said.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Alcohol misuse is not restricted to one sector or society – excessive daily and weekly consumption is common across different age and socio-economic groups and studies show that all income groups purchase low-price off-sales alcohol.”