Close to one in ten elderly adults on the US Government’s Medicare health insurance program admit to drinking more alcohol than is recommended.

A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examined the drinking habits of over 12,000 people aged 65 and over using data from a 2003 Medicare Survey.

The team of researchers found that 9 per cent had ‘unhealthy drinking practices’ – either consuming more than thirty drinks in a month or having four or more drinks on any given day.

A quarter of the Medicare beneficiaries drank within recommended guidelines and two thirds reported that they did not drink.

“Even though alcohol problems are more prevalent in younger people, a substantial proportion of older adults are consuming alcohol in amounts that exceed recommended guidelines,” said study co-author Elizabeth Merrick, a senior scientist at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

She said the issue was a problem that health and community workers often overlook.

“The relationship between alcohol consumption and risk is complex,” said Ms Merrick. “Our study focused only on amounts of alcohol consumed.

“There are many people for whom lower amounts or even any amount of alcohol may constitute a serious risk because of specific medical problems or medication interactions.”

An Australian study conducted by the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) back in 2005 reveals excessive alcohol consumption among seniors is a significant issue here as well.

It reported that 30 older Australians are admitted to hospital daily with alcohol-related injuries.

Looking at demographic trends, the institute’s Director, Steve Allsop, says the problem of excessive drinking among elderly people will probably increase over the next few decades.

“Using the NHMRC guidelines for risk, about 70,000 men and 50,000 women over the age of 65 were drinking at an at-risk level in 2003 and if we assume nothing changes, by 2031 it will be 330,000 men and 200,000 women over 65,” he said.

“In short, there is quite a large number of men and women over 65 who are currently drinking at dangerous levels and with the trends of an ageing population, this is going to become quite a public health challenge.”

Problems among older drinkers have also hit the headlines in Belgium recently.

Findings from the nation’s Health Ministry that 10 per cent of Belgians aged between 65 and 74 have an alcohol problem were reported last week in the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper.

The US’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says elderly people put themselves at risk when they consume more than seven drinks in a week or more than three drinks on a single day.

Recommended safe drinking guidelines are lower for older adults because they are more sensitive to alcohol and are less able to metabolise it.

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