Stigma and Shame Stopping ?Hidden? Over 50s Drinkers from Seeking Help

The Biggest ever study of its kind has revealed attitudes towards alcohol and ageing which could be leaving over 50s at increased risk of harm from alcohol. The city of Sheffield, chosen as one of five areas in UK for Drink Wise Age Well programme, is the location for an innovative partnership in which Shaw Trust /TAEN have been working with national charities Addaction and the Royal Voluntary Service in harness with Sheffield Alcohol Support Service. The report, issued this week, is the latest of a series of ground breaking initiatives from this project, which “Opens a can of worms on the devastating effects of alcohol abuse on the employability of older people,” commented Chris Ball, TAEN spokesperson and Specialist Adviser for the Ageing Workforce in Shaw Trust.

Among other findings the report issued this week reveals:

A hidden population of over 50s at increasing risk from their drinking may well be from sight.

Attitudes held and experienced by older drinkers may stop them for asking for help in reducing their alcohol use.

Respondents who drank more than they used to gave age-related reasons for doing so.

Over three-quarters (83%) of those surveyed who were at increasing risk from alcohol use had never been asked about their drinking by someone who might be able to help.

Risks associated with alcohol include depression, poor sleep, memory problems, and trouble with relationships as well as more serious illnesses such as cancer or liver disease.

The biggest-ever study of its kind into drinking behaviours among the over 50s surveyed over 16,700 people from 10 areas across the UK. Categories of risk were defined using the international recognised AUDIT screening tool.

Preliminary findings are:

·  Over half of respondents aged over 65 believe that people with an alcohol problem have themselves to blame. Nearly a quarter think they should feel ashamed.  

·   The five most frequently reported reasons for those who drink more now than in the past are age-related. These include retirement, bereavement, loss of sense of purpose, fewer opportunities to socialise and finances.

·   Around 4 in 5 of those who are at increasing risk of harm from alcohol said that on no occasion had relatives, friends, doctors or other health workers been concerned about their drinking or suggested they cut down.

·    one in four said they would not tell anyone if they needed help.

Emma Wells, Locality Manager for Drink Wise Age Well in Sheffield said:

“This report shows that existing attitudes and beliefs about ageing and alcohol can prevent people from getting the right type of advice and seeking support. Later life can be full of opportunity and new beginnings, but it can also be a time of changes that are difficult to adapt to. Drink Wise, Age Well is working alongside local communities in Sheffield to look at the skills people already have that can help them get the most out of life. It is well established that keeping in contact with those around us, having a chance to learn new skills and enjoy doing the things we love provides us with many of the things we need to keep us healthy and happy as we get older.”

David McCullough, Royal Voluntary Service Chief Executive said:

“What this report gives rise to are some concerning characteristics in relation to higher risk drinkers. More often than not, they are not in a relationship and live alone, and have a longstanding illness or disability. 1 in 3 higher risk drinkers cite being down or depressed as a reason for drinking and 41% say they drink because they are lonely or bored. Tackling social isolation among older people is a key commitment of Royal Voluntary service and this report highlights that we need to be much more vigilant and aware of the potential for high risk drinking in a population that are more isolated. We are delighted to be partners of the Drink Wise, Age Well programme so we can tackle this together.”

Drink Wise, Age Well is supported by the Big Lottery Fund as part of Rethink Good Health, a £25 million UK-wide programme to inform policy and practice UK-wide in preventing alcohol misuse amongst older people, specifically those aged 50 and over. It works in five areas to help prevent harm caused by alcohol in the over 50s, promote alternatives to alcohol in communities, build skills in communities to help at risk over 50s and seeks to get the issue on the health agenda. TAEN is a partner in the project in Sheffield.

The Sheffield Drink Wise Age Well advice line is available Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm on 0800 032 3723.