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Better Substance Abuse Treatment Needed for Older People in the United Kingdom

Posted in Alcoholism

As more and more older people need help with addiction problems, researchers at the University of the West of England (UWE) have identified that healthcare providers and substance abuse programs will need to offer services geared toward an older population. As a result, the St. Monica Trust, a charity supporting older people in the West of England, is now funding organizations involved in drug and alcohol abuse in the South West to improve understanding of the problem and to create new support services for older people with addiction problems.

“To date, most alcohol and drug abuse initiatives have been directed towards the needs of younger generations. Our evidence points to the fact that many older people and their families also need help with addiction problems, and today they are simply slipping through the net,” says Gerald Lee, director of the charity.

Professor Moira Plant, who co-wrote the report with Professor Martin Plant at UWE’s Alcohol & Health Research Unit, says that the number of older people in the United Kingdom is increasing, and one result of this is that “the costs of caring for those with specific health problems associated with periodic or chronic heavy drinking is likely to mushroom.”

She continued, “Greater acceptability of alcohol consumption in public, particularly amongst women in the Baby Boomer generation and more affordable and widely available alcohol has lead to growing numbers drinking more than the recommended levels. A significant increase in support for (caretakers) and services for older people with alcohol-related healthcare problems will be needed. We need to research the extent of heavy and problem drinking amongst older people, including those residing in residential care facilities. Moreover, training urgently is required to enable (caretakers) to identify and manage (or obtain help to care for) alcohol-related problems amongst older people.”

Plant said that in the next few years, alcohol-related problems amongst older people are likely to affect health and other social services. Alcohol abuse can lead to osteoporosis and a greater risk of bone fractures, liver disease, and interactions with prescription medications. Alcohol combined with sleeping pills or arthritis medication can cause drowsiness; alcohol with diabetes medication can cause headaches; and alcohol with blood thinners can alter the drugs’ effects and increase the risk of bleeds.

Drinking also increases the risk of accidents, hypothermia, depression, dementia, and bereavement.

The report says that people should continue to enjoy habits such as drinking but that regular health assessments should be carried out, particularly when people are taking medication for other illnesses or conditions. “Most importantly,” says Professor Plant, “research could usefully be conducted to examine the extent of heavy drinking and alcohol related problems amongst older people in residential care.”