In 2017 there were more than 5,500 deaths in England that could be directly attributed to alcohol. That represents an 11% increase from 2006. Further, hospital admissions related to alcohol were up 17% during the same period. Nearly 7% of all hospital admissions in the country involved alcohol as a factor. Vulnerable populations are especially impacted by such alcohol trends, and one population that this certainly affects is the elderly.
Alarming Rise in Alcohol-Related Deaths Among Elderly U.K. Residents
While the general trends show a rise in deaths related to alcohol in England, the statistics are even more alarming for older people. Elderly alcohol abuse isn’t necessarily something that’s often discussed, but it may be more problematic than many people realize. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of alcohol-related deaths in the U.K. increased 21% in people older than 50, but actually declined by 8% in people younger than 50.
Hospital admissions related to mental disorders, including dementia and dependence related to alcohol use, increased 7% in the over-50 demographic, as compared to an 18% decline in people under the age of 50. There was also an increase of nearly four times the number of people older than 64 seeking alcohol treatment services over the past ten years.
U.S. Elderly Alcohol Abuse Statistics
While the previously mentioned elderly alcohol abuse statistics are from the United Kingdom, that’s certainly not the only place where alcohol abuse among older people seems to be on the rise. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 1 million people 65 or older had a substance use disorder in the United States in 2014. This statistic included 978,000 individuals that met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
SAMHSA describes substance use as an “emerging public health issue” among older people in the United States. The number of older Americans with a substance use disorder is expected to reach 5.7 million by 2020.
Why Seniors Are Drinking More Alcohol
Why are older people drinking more? There may be a variety of reasons for the increase, including:
- Coping with chronic pain and problems with mobility
- Social isolation
- Older people may have a tolerance, so they drink more to feel intoxicated
- To help fall asleep
- Dealing with mental health issues
To provide context, an estimated 28% of older adults in the United States live alone. That’s around 13.8 million people according to a report by the Administration for Community Living’s Administration on Aging. There are possible links between social isolation and poor outcomes for older adults.
Recognizing Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse in the Elderly
For caregivers and family members, understanding the symptoms of alcohol abuse in the elderly can help them intervene before it leads to negative health outcomes. Symptoms of alcohol abuse in the elderly can include:
- Sleep problems or changes in sleep patterns
- Cognitive impairment
- Frequent falls or accidents
- Unexplained bruising
- Agitation or restlessness
- Slurred speech
- Problems concentrating
- Stomach issues such as nausea or vomiting
- Changes in eating habits
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Increased isolation
- Loss of interest in being with friends and family or participating in activities
U.K. Laws Offer More Community Prevention Programs to the Elderly
New laws in the U.K. are being enacted to help combat substance use by older adults. For example, new changes in the Mental Capacity Act 2019 will offer increasing assistance to people who live in their own homes. It authorizes transportation to day centers and other places for elderly individuals that reduce access to alcohol and increase their social interactions. The goal of such changes in the law is to help health and social services intervene when people may have an alcohol-related substance use disorder.
Some groups advocate for the elderly such as The Administration on Aging, but the United States may need to work to do more to help older Americans with substance use disorders, similar to what the U.K. is doing.