Hippies invented drugs, sex and rock and roll, according to grandad. They challenged social attitudes, defied social conventions and broke the law. Now in old age, they are still a generation causing concern, accused as they are of blocking hospital beds, presenting a challenge of care in prisons, and lately, for drinking too much.

We are used to hearing older people described as a burden on the NHS. More recently we have heard of a rising crime rate among older people. Now we are told there’s an epidemic of alcohol abuse.

‘Some of those falls and some of that forgetfulness that family and friends put down to old age might be due to drink’

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, this older generation is drinking more: one in five older men and one in 10 women drink enough to harm themselves.

Reasons to drink

Reasons for alcohol abuse in old age include bereavement, loneliness, pain, ill health, disability and depression.

Alcohol prevention and treatments tend to be geared towards younger people, who are often in the news for binge drinking and very visible alcohol related antisocial behaviour. Over 65s tend to drink at home; a hidden problem, much more likely to involve drinking seven days a week. Some of those falls and accidents around the home and some of that forgetfulness and confusion that family and friends put down to old age might be due to drink.

Does it matter and is it an issue for the NHS and social services? A couple of large brandies to help you get to sleep at night, a bottle of wine with the evening meal to ease the pains in the joints. Why would an 85 year old care about long term damage to their kidneys?

More must be done

Is it really a problem provided they’re not driving a car, looking after the grandchildren or ending up in accident and emergency due to another unexplained fall, you may ask. But if heavy drinking is the result of bereavement, loneliness, pain, ill health, disability or depression, shouldn’t the health and social care services be offering help and support?

The danger is that the preoccupation with dementia in old age will lead to overworked social workers, district nurses, community mental health teams and GPs missing the signs or dismissing them as just part of growing old. Depression then goes untreated, unnecessary suffering is endured and quality of life is diminished.

It’s something for the commissioners to think about.