A recent study in the North-East of England, carried out by the local Primary Care Trust in collaboration with the leading universities in the area and Age UK, has discovered an alarming and growing drink problem among older people. The report has described these people as the country’s “invisible addicts”.
Ann Crosland, Professor of Nursing at the University of Sunderland said: “An aging population means that the number of older people with alcohol problems is inevitably on the increase. The need to establish an understanding for the problems faced by this generation has now become urgent; it would be a sad reflection on society if we just ignore this”.
Only a very small proportion of the service providers catered for the needs of the older drinkers and it seems that all press and television campaigns are directed towards the younger drinkers, particularly the binge drinkers. The elderly have specific needs and their drinking habits are often very different and are caused by factors which are only relevant to their age group. Some elderly people have always drunk to some extent and the increase in their drinking occurs almost imperceptibly over a period of time before it becomes a real problem. In many cases it is problems associated with bereavement or loneliness that are a major contributory factor towards alcoholic drinking. Even in apparently healthy older people in a settled relationship the changes associated with retirement such as boredom or feelings of being unwanted can cause problems.
Many of the people with problems drink alone and come from a generation that was never encouraged to admit this sort of problem and do not know how to seek help or where that help is to be found. The study team found that the medical professionals they examined were often not equipped to give the assistance and guidance required. Service providers within the public sector have tended to concentrate their finite resources in other areas and it often falls to those of us in the private sector to fill the gap.
At the Providence Project we appreciate that all of the people we treat are individuals and we are particularly conscious of the needs, both emotional and physical, of an older generation. In our experience older people are often reluctant to call us for help, sometimes for reasons of denial of the problem or sometimes for reasons of shame and embarrassment. We understand this situation and our counselling team have a long experience of dealing with it. The first contact we have is often with a son or daughter of the problem drinker and if you wish to speak to us about a parent we can promise you that the call will be answered by a professional senior counsellor and will be in total confidence. We do not employ any unqualified staff to answer calls to our helpline. We are available 24 hours a day and a chat on the phone, or a personal appointment, is the first step to dealing with problems that may require drug rehab or alcohol rehab.