A charity has called for action to tackle the “growing and serious” problem of excessive drinking in older age after official figures revealed the number of alcohol-related deaths among people aged 75 and over has increased to their highest level since records began in 1991.
The rise in alcohol-related deaths in the UK among the elderly in 2012, up 18% for men and 12% for women, came despite an overall drop in the number of such deaths across all age groups to 8,367, down 361 on the previous year, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows.
The death rates per 100,000 also reached their highest level since records began, at 28.5 for men and 13.5 for women – illustrating that the rise is not just a result of an aging population. Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said excessive drinking was often linked with issues such as bereavement, loneliness and isolation.
“Whilst the spotlight on excessive drinking generally falls on younger people, the most significant increases in alcohol related harm are actually in older age groups, with people aged 65 and over also reporting the highest rates of drinking on five or more days a week,” she said. “The numbers of alcohol-related hospital admissions, illnesses and mental health disorders among older people are also sadly on the rise. “It’s time that excessive drinking in older age is recognised as a growing and serious problem and that appropriate and effective preventative and treatment services are made available.”
There were 580 alcohol-related deaths among men aged 75 and over in 2012 and 385 among women aged 75 and over. When the data series began in 1991 there were 18.1 deaths per 100,000 men aged 75 and over (equivalent to 257 in absolute terms) and 10.5 deaths per 100,000 women aged 75 and over (equivalent to 271 deaths). The only other group which saw a rise in deaths in 2012 over the previous year was women aged between 55-74, with a 3% increase to 1,318 deaths in 2012 and a rise in the rate per 100,000 from 19.5 to 19.8.
The overall number of alcohol-related deaths per 100,000, adjusted for age, fell to 11.8 in 2012, its lowest level since 2000, when it stood at 11.2. But the ONS said Scotland was the only country in the UK in which male and female death rates were significantly lower in 2012 than 2002.
Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern said: “We are facing historically high levels of health harms caused by alcohol misuse, with over a million alcohol-related hospital admissions each year and we’re one of the few European countries where liver disease is on the increase.”
Alcoholic liver disease was responsible for 63% (4,425) of alcohol-related deaths in 2012. The fourth highest alcohol-related cause of death was accidental alcohol poisoning (396 deaths), including 14 deaths of people in their 20s. The ONS said: “There has been speculation that the influence of social media drinking games may drive these figures up in the future particularly among younger people.”
Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said it was working in partnership with the NHS, other agencies and local authorities to tackle
harmful use of alcohol. “Key priorities are implementing measures which make drinking at lower risk levels the easier choice; early identification and advice targeted at those who are most at risk; and the right treatment and support for people who are dependent on alcohol,” he said.