Safe recommended drinking limits should be slashed for the over-65s to take into account the effects of ageing, according to a doctors' report urging more action to tackle alcohol and drug misuse among the elderly.
Separate guidance on safe drinking levels for over-65s should be issued by the Government as current recommended limits are based on younger adults and are too high for the elderly, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said in a report.
Recent evidence has shown that the upper safe limit for older men is 1.5 units of alcohol a day, the college said, compared to a current recommendation for men of not regularly drinking more than three to four units daily.
For women over 65, the limits should be lowered from not regularly drinking more than two to three units a day to possibly to just one unit a day, according to Dr Tony Rao, a consultant in old age psychiatry and a member of the working group that drew up the report Our Invisible Addicts.
"As we age, there are other accompanying factors such as increasing memory problems and physical health problems and less of an ability to get rid of alcohol from the blood stream," he said.
"This means that the effects of what we would currently call the safe limits is actually more damaging for older people."
The call for new drink limits for the over-65s comes as part of a series of recommendations from the college on drug and alcohol misuse among older people.
The UK is witnessing a "burgeoning" public health problem in the form of a growing alcohol and drug misuse problem among the "baby boomer" generation, according to the college.
The report said problems included misuse of prescribed and over-the-counter medicines as well as alcohol abuse. Illegal drug use was currently uncommon among over-65s but there has been a "significant" increase in the over-40s in recent years, the report said.
A third of older people with alcohol problems develop them in later life, often as a result of changes such as retirement or bereavement, or feelings of boredom, loneliness and depression, according to the report.
Recommendations include screening by GPs for substance misuse amongst the over-65s, as part of a routine health check and a public health campaign on alcohol and drug misuse targeted at older people.
Professor Ilana Crome, professor of addiction psychiatry and chairman of the working group, said: "The traditional view is that alcohol misuse is uncommon in older people, and that the misuse of drugs is very rare.
"However, this is simply not true.
"A lack of awareness means that GPs and other healthcare professionals often overlook or discount the signs when someone has a problem.
"We hope this report highlights the scale of the problem, and that the multiple medical and social needs of this group of people are not ignored any longer."
Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "While younger excessive drinkers often make the headlines, we should remember that older people often turn to alcohol in later life as a coping mechanism and this can remain stubbornly hidden from view.
"This report calls for much greater recognition that excessive drinking in older age is both widespread and preventable, particularly if public health professionals are supported and trained to spot the signs and take appropriate action."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "Alcohol misuse is a major public health issue, no matter what age you are.
"We are already taking action to tackle problem drinking, including plans to stop supermarkets selling below-cost alcohol and working to introduce a tougher licensing regime.
"However, individuals have responsibilities too and everyone should drink responsibly within the recommended alcohol limits.
"All advice is kept under review. We welcome any addition to the evidence base in this area and will consider this report carefully."Reuse content