Each year that goes by, it is always a pleasant surprise to find something new to back up what has become irrefutable evidence. In this case, it is that older people of the 'Baby Boomer' Generation continue with hedonistic lifestyles into their later years well beyond that seen with any previous generation. So what's hedonistic about capturing the joie de vivre and making it last beyond your working age? Well, it's a bigger deal if it happens to mean that you are more likely to receive treatment for alcohol dependence when you may have least expected it.
Between 2001 and 2011, the population of people aged 65 and over in England and Wales increased by just over ten per cent. This is in stark contrast to much larger rises in alcohol related admissions, alcohol related deaths and alcohol related brain injury for this age group over the same time frame.
So now what's new? When I found out that the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System for England documents numbers in treatment for alcohol dependence, I thought that I should perhaps take a closer look. Several points struck me, all of which will have some relevance to those who have an interest in the prevention and treatment of alcohol addiction.
The first point is that people aged 60 and over in England form the age group with the highest rise in numbers treated for alcohol dependence; showing a rise of 38 per cent between 2009/10 to 2013/14. This compares with a rise of 13 per cent in the 40-59 age group, a drop of 6 per cent in the 25-39 age group and a larger drop of 30 per cent in the 18-25 age group over the same time frame.
That's not the end of it. Looking at which areas of England have a higher percentage of older people in alcohol treatment than the national average was an eye opener. Between 2009 and 2010, the county of Rutland in the East Midlands stood out as one of two areas sharing this unique characteristic. This could well be because of its historical heritage in having a large brewery that may have influenced local drinking habits. The other area was the London Borough of Richmond on Thames, but I know of no reason as to why this borough is different from other boroughs.
Over the next 4 years, the number of areas around England with higher rates of treatment of older people with alcohol dependence literally spread across England like a rash. The following year, it spread to East Riding in Yorkshire and to Dorset. The year after, it was Hampshire and the London Boroughs of Thurrock and Havering. Between 2012 and 2013, it was in Solihull, West Cheshire Chester, Shropshire and the London Boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham and Wandsworth. The most recent figures show that East Cheshire, Devon, Lincolnshire and the London Borough of Brent have higher rates of alcohol treatment in people aged 60 and over compared with the national average.
So let's get real. Alcohol costs the NHS £3.5 billion per year. It remains the most widely consumed legal drug and the harm that is exacts is no longer confined to the young and middle-aged. Between 2010 and 2012, there were an average of 7,400 people aged 60 and over in alcohol treatment across England. If we assume that at least 1% of the population aged 60 and over in England has alcohol dependence, this forms only 6 per cent of the potential number of older people who would benefit from treatment.
The aspiration to provide alcohol treatment to at least 15 per cent of people with alcohol dependence remains sadly just that. With the added problem of older drinkers now forming a growing public health and clinical challenge across a progressively wider area of the country, the challenge is not just with detection and treatment, but in understanding how to address and change an established drinking culture. It will be a collective responsibility that is still too little too late.