Our Invisible Addicts, a report published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in June 2011, suggested lowering the daily recommended alcohol limit for older people to an upper limit of an average of 1.5 units a day (averaged over a week) for people aged 65 or over. It also suggested reclassifying binge drinking for older consumers as the consumption in a single session of more than 4.5 units for men and more than 3 units for women.
Researchers from UCL (University College London) have investigated the implications of changing the daily recommended limits in terms of identifying how many older people would be classified as at risk of alcohol related harm. The researchers looked at the prevalence of alcohol consumption in excess of the existing and the suggested consumption limits, examining data from over 15,000 people about their drinking habits.
The number of individuals aged 65 or over and drinking in excess of recommended limits would have increased 2.5 fold to over three million in 2008 under the age-specific recommendations. The resulting figure of 3,142,000 at-risk older drinkers is 1,865,000 more than classified at-risk under existing guidelines and is also in excess of the number of people in the 16-24 age group classified as at risk. Suggested revisions to existing binge drinking classifications would have defined almost 1,200,000 people aged 65 or over as hazardous consumers of alcohol in 2008 – a 3.6 fold increase over existing definitions.
Lead researcher Craig Knott said: “Older people are more susceptible to alcohol-related harm and the existing recommended daily limits defined for the general population may be unsafe for older drinkers, especially those with pre-existing medical problems or in receipt of certain medications.
“It’s not certain whether the implementation of age-specific consumption thresholds would prove the most effective means of reducing alcohol intake in older populations – not least as the concept of alcohol units is unfamiliar to around one fifth of older adults. However, it is important that research is carried out into the prevalence of harmful alcohol consumption amongst older people and this should include a focus on the suitability of new age-specific consumption thresholds.”
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Notes to Editors
1. Age and Ageing is an international journal publishing refereed original articles and commissioned reviews on geriatric medicine and gerontology. Its range includes research on ageing and clinical, epidemiological, and psychological aspects of later life. It is the official scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society and is published by Oxford University Press.
2. Could more than three million older people in England be at risk of alcohol-related harm? A cross-sectional analysis of proposed age-specific drinking limits by Craig Knott, University College London, was first published in Age & Ageing on 24 July 2013.
3. Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. It is among the world’s top universities, as reflected by its performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world. UCL has nearly 25,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Our annual income is more than £800 million. For more information: www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel YouTube.com/UCLTV
4. The British Geriatrics Society (BGS) is a membership association of doctors, nurses, therapists, scientists and others with a particular interest in the care of the frail older person and in promoting better health in old age. The BGS strives to promote better understanding of the healthcare needs of older people and to share examples of best practice to ensure that older patients are treated with dignity and respect by all clinical staff they come into contact with. For more information: www.bgs.org.uk Follow us on Twitter @gerisoc