Old and Boozing: Why are so many elderly people drinking to excess?
That’s the subject of tonight’s Panorama.
If Joan Bakewell is right, old folk are squirreling away bottles of wine and spirits in a secret stash at home, getting sozzled night after night and quietly going gaga as a consequence.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists say people over 65 should drink a maximum of only 1.5 units of alcohol a day. That is the equivalent of about half-a-pint of beer or a small glass of wine – fine if you suddenly decide to take up driving all day and all night and can’t drink anyway. Not fine if you want to spend a few hours in the company of pals and enjoy yourselves.
Apparently, older drinkers are less able to process alcohol and it can interact with medication they may be taking for other ailments. While that comes from the school of the blindingly obvious, alcoholism in older people can be mistaken for other conditions related to ageing – such as dementia.
The current advice – 14 units of alcohol for women and 21 for men each week – is based on research on young adults – a fat lot of good.
Presumably, most people over 65 do not go out clubbing every night and prefer to drink cheap supermarket vino in the house – secretly, so they can fall over in the privacy of their own homes. No one knows about it so, obviously, no one researches the subject.
The fact is, the older you are, the less able your body is to handle alcohol. Also, getting blotto will make an older person more likely to have accidents, falls and fractures.
Anyway, all those who object to this warning to old people must know that we are living in a nanny state. The trouble is nannies are useless to Scots because we refuse to listen to them. As a nation, we prefer to completely ignore all sensible advice, however good its intention.
So, nanny state says, ‘drink up your juice, eat up your five-a-day greens and abandon forever that 8lb burrito in batter, smothered in guacamole and double cream.
But we refuse point-blank to take this interference lying down. We shout and bawl. We stamp our little feet and throw a mighty tantrum. “No, nanny, we will not put on our collective nightie. No, nanny, we will not go to bed now”.
On and on it goes: nanny says, ‘If you have hit the magic number of 65, drink nothing but one tiny glass of wine a day and stub out those grotty cancer-causing fags’ and ‘if you won’t exercise, go up to bed without any supper, especially if you were planning on having yet another bag of chips or a fatty burger or three.’
We just reply: “Go take a long hike, nanny dearest, and leave us alone to fester’.
We are bad, bad, bad people. We are a nation of fat, lazy consumerists who attempt to thrive on sugar, salt, fat, alcohol and wheeze-inducing smoke. Apparently, we are eating and drinking so much we can barely get though our own front doors without the aid of a crowbar.
For those reasons, we really should listen to nanny otherwise – never mind drinking too much after 65 – most of us will have departed this mortal coil long before then. A third of people who experience problems with alcohol do so later on in life, often as a result of traumas such as bereavement or feelings of loneliness and depression.
Drink is not the answer to any of those issues. We all know that.
Most of us experience loneliness at some time in life. The old cliché is so true: which of us has not felt lonely in a big crowd, however much drink we consume? Loneliness is a feeling of emptiness, a feeling of separateness from the world.
There are different degrees. It can be anything from a vague feeling of unhappiness to a deep sense of personal despair. And a person’s fear of rejection can be so great they won’t even attempt to make friends or develop relationships. Learning to deal with loneliness, without taking to the bottle, is an art in itself: trying to develop a positive attitude, focussing on others instead of yourself.
In Scotland, for a lot of people, the sole purpose in going out at night is to get as drunk as a skunk. Even though the number of alcohol-related deaths is three times higher than those caused by drugs, there is still this popular belief that getting blitzed equals having a good time.
And, it can be difficult to refuse a drink in Scotland, not from fear of snubbing people when they are being hospitable, more worry about peer pressure. A simple “no thank-you” should suffice.
What does it take to persuade the average Scot you do not want a drink? Does it have to be: “No thanks, I’m performing brain surgery first thing in the morning.”
But that won’t work for the over-65s – most of whom are retired.Photo: creative commons Article focus: Elderly people drinking
- Joan Bakewell tackles taboo of aged addiction (telegraph.co.uk)