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Impact of Alcohol on Older People

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Following recommendations made by Alcohol Concern, the Cardiff and Vale Area Planning Board commissioned the Wallich to undertake a report exploring the impact of alcohol on older people across Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. The project’s aims were twofold: on the one side, exploring data relevant to older adults (current estimates of harmful and problem drinking, numbers accessing/not accessing services and barriers to engagement), and on the other side, exploring data relevant to service providers and practitioners (current levels of harm/health problems related to alcohol, what service providers feel needs to be done and how best to ensure older people and their families get accurate information about alcohol use).

In terms of collecting data, a mixed method using quanitative (questionnaires) and qualitative (interviews/focus groups) was employed for both older adults and service providers/practitioners.

Results from the older adults’ questionnaire revealed that a significant number of older adults, living in Cardiff and the Vale, demonstrate potentially unsafe levels of alcohol use (approximately 16,902 when generalised) and need advice based around safe limits. The results also demonstrated that a significant proportion of those who should potentially be engaging with services were not doing so. Barriers to engagement were both within the individual (shame, embarrassment, denial and/or a lack of awareness) and external to the individual (services not being age appropriate). Interviews with older adults highlighted how drinking is very much ingrained as the cultural norm for older adults based on the generation in which they were raised. Results from service providers/practitioners revealed high levels of alcohol related physical injuries, detrimental health consequences, mental health correlations and day to day effects including self neglect and poor hygiene. Recommendations from both the quantitative responses and focus groups with service providers/practitioners revealed a need for:

  • Ageappropriate services for older problem drinkers (or at least an arm within current services);
  • Better communication and pathways between current services;
  • More screening, interventions and specialist aftercare;
  • Training and professional development for all staff working with older adults;
  • Unambiguous public health messages which challenge ageist attitudes and myths that surround alcohol misuse.

The ageing of the ‘baby boomers’, coupled with a rise in life expectancy, suggests that this is not just a problem that older adults, services and practitioners are faced with now, but will be an increasing problem for the future. These results and recommendations may be used as a baseline to inform not only future research but future policy context and potential interventions/services designed – hopefully – with older adults in mind.

 

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