Baby boomer drink habits "may be time-bomb"

Higher levels of drinking by older people could place significant demands on health and social services, an academic warned today.

Dr Jan Gill, from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, highlighted a potential "demographic time-bomb" in the so-called baby boomer generation – many of whom are now in their 60s.

The group, born between 1945 and 1965, is drinking relatively higher levels of alcohol than its predecessors, Dr Gill said.

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"The concern is that, if they continue this pattern of drinking in older age, they will place significant alcohol-related demands on future health and social services," she said.

"In Scotland it is estimated that if this group does not reduce consumption as they age, the number whose drinking may be a threat to healthy old age may rise over three-fold."

Dr Gill, leader of the university's Alcohol Evidence Group, and Yvonne Coull, director of the RBS Centre for the Older Person's Agenda at the university, believe more research is needed.

Ms Coull said older people may face less pressure to give up drinking than younger people.

"Alcohol can easily become part of the daily routine and it can be difficult to give up," she said.

"Also, there may be less pressure to give up drinking than for a younger person, with older people often having fewer family responsibilities, and no pressure to go to work each day.

"Bereavement, physical ill-health, anxiety, unemployment, retirement, life-changing events, financial difficulties, difficulty getting around and social isolation can lead to boredom and depression.

She added: "Also, physical illness may be painful and it can be tempting to use alcohol to make these difficulties more bearable."

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Dr Gill said: "It is timely to call for further health and social research to be conducted. This will inform evidence-based advice – for instance, safe drinking limits – to the older Scottish population.

"Lack of action will ultimately lead to major problems in the near future for individuals, families, NHS services and society as a whole."