More over 65s in London 'seek drink problem help'

There has been a sharp rise in the number of people aged over 65 being treated for drinking problems in London, figures suggest.

Figures compiled for BBC Inside Out London by the NHS Information Centre reveal over the past 10 years, there has been a 163% increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions for the over-65s.

The rate is rising faster for the over-65s than any other age group in the UK, and only north-east England has a higher rate of these admissions than London.

Older people are much more likely to drink every day than those of other ages, according to an NHS study into alcohol use.

While the rest of the population is drinking slightly less, and slightly less often on average, this is not the case for older people, it said.

Prof Tony Rao, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), said: "London is a bit of a pressure point.

"Within London there are areas like Hammersmith and Fulham, Southwark and Camden with even higher rates of death [than the rest of England] from alcohol-related illnesses."

The RCPsych claims GPs are missing the problems of elderly drinkers through a combination of time constraints, lack of expertise and the reluctance of older people to ask for help.

Dr Claire Gerado, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, said: "I think we focus far too much on the young ones.

"We do that because the young ones are more visible - they vomit in streets. You don't tend to see a retired 70-year-old bank manager vomiting in the street.

"But it's just as much of a problem for people drinking at the other end of life as it is for the young ones."

NHS research has found older drinkers often regard excessive drinking problems as a taboo subject.

They may also think it is too late to get help, that services are not designed for them, or they may think that they do not have a problem in the first place.

'Never an issue'

Health experts cite a range of reasons for older people drinking heavily including boredom, loneliness, change in lifestyle - usually retirement, bereavement and as a form of self-medication.

But there are very few services which offer specific support for elderly drinkers.

One of the few to target work specifically with older people in London is the charity Foundation 66, which has seen an increasing number of senior citizens seeking help.

The charity's Sean Dudley said: "It's interesting that 40% of people who are accessing our service have never accessed an alcohol service previously.

"For them, drinking became problematic probably in their late-40s, their 50s and 60s, whereas previously it was never an issue."

One Hammersmith resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, is in recovery for a drinking problem that started relatively late in her life.

"I didn't drink hardly at all before the age of 60, just sherry maybe, but then I just took off," she said.

"I had lots and lots of upsets with the family, they just couldn't cope and hadn't seen me drinking before - it was out of control, completely out of control.

"I had time on my hands, I met other people who liked a drink and I continued when I went home.

"I think I just stopped in time, because it was getting to the stage where I was not recovering. I couldn't get off [the] floor."

She is now in recovery for her alcoholism at a centre run by Foundation 66.

BBC Inside Out London's alcohol special is broadcast on Monday 9 January on BBC One London at 19:30 GMT and for seven days thereafter on iPlayer.

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