Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Thursday, 5 March 2009

NHS treating more older drinkers

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Red wine in an off licence
The government says harmful drinking is a priority

Older people are being warned about their drinking habits as figures show alcohol-related hospital admissions in the over 65s are rising.

NHS data revealed pensioners accounted for more than 320,000 admissions in England last year - a two-thirds rise over four years.

The Liberal Democrats, which obtained the figures, said there needed to be a greater focus on older drinkers.

But the government said all age groups were being targeted by campaigns.

The data, revealed by the Department of Health in response to a Parliamentary question by the Lib Dems, covers any condition or problem where alcohol has contributed to the admission and so covers everything from liver problems to falls.

The government's efforts to reduce drinking should be targeting older age groups as well as younger people
Gordon Lishman
Age Concern

It showed that in 2002-3 the number of admissions stood at just more than 197,000, but by 2006-7 it had hit 323,595.

This represents 40% of the total 800,000 admissions seen.

Health campaigners have long warned that while young binge drinkers have hogged the headlines, those in older age groups drinking at home were also at risk.

Professor Martin Plant, an alcohol expert from the University of the West of England, said the availability of cheap alcohol had played a big part in encouraging people to drink more, including those in retirement.

"The over 65s are often more frail and vulnerable than other age groups and yet their drinking habits do not get much attention," he said.

"They may be on prescription drugs which can interact badly with alcohol and are not as fit and healthy as younger people."

Alcohol Concern chief executive Don Shenker suggested better hospital recording systems and the ageing population had probably contributed to the rise, but said the issue was still concerning.

He added: "Social isolation, bereavement and a variety of social factors can play a part in an older person developing alcohol misuse problems and the associated health risks."

'Unnoticed'

Tom Brake, the Lib Dem MP who uncovered the figures, said the problem had gone unnoticed by the government.

"These figures are deeply worrying, and ministers must take action to tackle this new and disturbing trend."

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, agreed a shift in emphasis was needed.

"The government's efforts to reduce drinking should be targeting older age groups as well as younger people. "

A Department of Health spokesman said the level of admissions was "unacceptable" and tackling harmful drinking was a "government priority".

He said the 6m Know Your Limits promotion campaign launched last year was aimed at all drinkers.

But he added: "The majority of people who drink alcohol, drink responsibly. We are committed to giving people the information they need to make informed choices."

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