Plenty of scientific research shows that too much drinking is bad for overall health, but the message seems to be falling on deaf ears for Baby Boomers. In fact, a new report has found older Australians are drinking at worrying levels and the health care system is struggling to keep up.
The research, published in the Medical Journal of Australia by researchers from Flinders University, found the proportion of risky Boomer drinkers increased from 13.4 per cent to 13.5 per cent between 2004 and 2016. The proportion of high-risk drinkers increased from 2.1 per cent (128,125 people) to 3.1 per cent (249,080 people) in the same period.
Researchers analysed data from several tri-annual National Drug Strategy Household Surveys and defined drinkers as abstainers, low-risk drinkers (no more than four standard drinks in a single session), risky drinkers (five to 10 standard drinks in a single session at least once a month) and high-risk drinkers (11 or more standard drinks in a single session at least once a month).
Authors of the study explained that the rising prevalence of risky drinking was not attributed solely to the increased number of older members of society due to the ageing population and that specific characteristics of the Baby Boomer generation could be an important contributor to the changing pattern of alcohol consumption. They also explained that the increase in the proportions of risky and high-risk drinkers may seem small, but they actually correspond to an additional 400,000 people drinking at “problematic levels”.
Researchers noted that while alcohol consumption for Boomers is increasing, it actually decreased during the same period for people aged 12 to 24. GPs are now being encouraged to use counselling and information sessions for Baby Boomer patients as a way of motivating their behavioural change when it comes to drinking.
The authors also said it was important for GPs and health professionals to improve their education when it comes to the patterns and drivers of alcohol consumption by older people, as well as taking into consideration the unique needs and characteristics of older members of the community. Over-60s are vulnerable to a range of alcohol-related adverse effects such as falls and other injuries, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health problems, obesity, liver disease, as well as early onset dementia and other brain injuries.
“Age-appropriate resources and techniques for clinical practice are also required for encouraging low-risk drinking in more vulnerable groups of older people, and for minimising the risks of alcohol related harm,” study authors Anne Roche and Victoria Kostadinov wrote.
Speaking to Starts at 60 previously, Melbourne-based psychiatrist Dr Kieran Kennedy explained there aren’t any specific guidelines in Australia when it comes to drinking and the older population. Instead, the same guidelines apply for all adults over the age of 18.
Men and women shouldn’t be consuming more than two standard drinks on any one day, or more than four standard drinks in a session if they’re trying to reduce the long-term and acute risks of alcohol.
“What we do know is that medically, people that are over 60 or over 65 would probably be having less than that,” Kennedy said. “There are things in terms of health and other medications that can mean even that amount of alcohol can potentially be more unsafe than someone in their 30s or 40s.”
It’s always important to talk about the potential risk of alcohol consumption on individual health with a GP or health professional.