Care professionals must act on alcohol misuse among elderly

Health and social care professionals have been urged to "wise up" to the growing problem of substance misuse among older people, in a report today from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

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Health and social care professionals have been urged to “wise up” to the growing problem of substance misuse among older people, in a report today from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

A generation of older people are having their drug and alcohol problems going undetected because of the preconception that substance misuse is a problem for the young, the report found.

A third of older people with alcohol misuse problems develop them later in life often due to issues such as retirement, bereavement feelings of loneliness or depression.

And while illegal drug use is uncommon among over-65s, there is a growing problem of misuse among the over-40s while inappropriate use of prescription medication was already a problem among pensioners, particularly women.

Older people are also at risk of adverse physical effects of alcohol or drug use even at relatively modest levels of intake, the report said, though there is evidence that treatments can work to address misuse.

“Because of the preconception that alcohol and drug use are problems of the young, there is a generation of older people for whom these problems have gone undetected,” said Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, chair of the college’s faculty of addictions psychiatry. “This timely report is a wake-up call for healthcare professionals and a reminder that older people have particular risks for substance misuse.”

Recommendations included that:

• GPs should screen every person over the age of 65 for substance misuse as part of a routine health check.

• The government should issue separate guidance on alcohol consumption for older people with lower recommended limits than for younger people.

• All social care staff doctors, nurses, psychologists and allied health professionals should receive suitable training in substance misuse in older people.

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