Maturing well – advice on alcohol and drugs for older people

Maturing well – advice on alcohol and drugs for older people

A new booklet which dispels a number of myths about alcohol, drugs and older people has been published.

The 20-page booklet ‘Alcohol, drugs and older people’ has been produced by the Public Health Agency (PHA) in partnership with the Belfast Health Development Unit (BHDU), Addiction NI and Drink Think.

Alcohol and drugs misuse amongst older people is often hidden and the booklet is aimed at those who are worried about their intake.

About a third of older people with alcohol problems develop them for the first time in later life. Major life changes such as bereavement, physical ill-health, becoming a carer, loneliness, difficulty getting around, social isolation or changes in patterns such as no longer working, unhappiness or depression mean that consumption can creep up often without us realising it. Older people need to be particularly aware of setting clear limits about their drinking. 

The booklet sets out the risks of drinking too much alcohol and the risks associated with misusing drugs, in particular prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Information is given on how those concerned about their alcohol or drug use can get support.

Owen O’Neill, the PHA’s Drugs and Alcohol Lead, said: “Problem drinking in older people is often hidden and the symptoms can be mistaken for a physical or mental health problem.

“Older people who drink too much are more at risk of accidents, as well as a range of health problems including stroke, heart disease and cancer. It can also affect their mental health and contribute to depression, confusion or dementia.”

Elma Greer, Healthy Ageing Co-ordinator with the BHDU, said:

“We were very keen to be involved in the development of this booklet because older people and community groups in Belfast told us that this was a hidden issue and that they wanted up-to-date information that was relevant to them.

“The advice, myths and realities, and sources of support are very relevant for anyone who wants to age well.

“Older people were involved in focus groups to shape what needed to be included in this leaflet and they will also be involved in how we get this resource to as many older people as possible.”

Alan Coleman, Project Manager at Addiction NI said: “The publication of the booklet will help raise awareness of the issue of alcohol and prescription and over-the-counter drug problems in the older population.

“The booklet helps to dispel a number of myths around the alcohol misuse in this age group and emphasises the point that age is not a barrier to change.”

Joanne Smith from Drink Think said: “We are not aware of how much more our body is affected by alcohol as we get older. It is important to help people understand what safe limits are in order to help people have the best quality of life in later years. Simple and practical things like measuring out wine and spirits can help us keep within safe limits. A wee bit less is best as we get older.”

The booklet has been distributed to all GP surgeries and pharmacies across Northern Ireland.


Notes to the editor

The booklet is available in the publications section of the PHA’s website