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Alcohol and older people

Research suggests that alcohol consumption generally declines with age and the proportion of non-drinkers increases. The reasons for this decline in consumption are presumably connected to changes in life circumstances and attitudes and, in the later middle aged and older, growing ill health.

However, there is evidence that today's population of older people may be relatively heavier drinkers than previous generations. This could be the result of an effect whereby a generation which has had its formative years at a time of increasing affordability, availability, and social acceptability of alcohol may be more likely to retain the habit of drinking.

In regard to the number and proportion of problem drinkers, another factor is simply that due to longer life expectancy and the ageing of the population there are more elderly people. In 1991 there were 10.6 million people of pensionable age, a rise of 16 per cent since 1971. It is projected that there will be a further increase of 38 per cent, with 14.6 million people of pensionable age by the year 2031 in the United Kingdom. The number of over 85s is also expected to double between 2010 and 2030.

Despite drinking comparatively little, older drinkers consume alcohol far more often than any other age group. The cumulative effect of regular drinking takes its toll on the body of an older person, which is less able to handle the same levels of alcohol as in previous years.

This factsheet presents data on the drinking habits of those about to enter into the pensionable stage of their lives (i.e. 60 years and over), exploring the reasons behind their unique relationship they have with alcohol.

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