Older adults are now one of the fastest growing populations of hazardous drinkers, with Kiwis over 50 found to be drinking more frequently and more on each occasion than adults in nine over countries, health experts have warned.
In a statement, APSAD Auckland said a review of international survey data found growing evidence that hazardous drinking is a major health concern in older populations, with estimates for the number of older people drinking at risky levels varying widely from one to just over 20 per cent.
In New Zealand, up to 40 per cent of older adults are hazardous drinkers, with those over 50 drinking more frequently and drinking more on each occasion than older adults in nine other countries, including England, Russie, the United States, Mexico and China.
Massey University's School of Health Sciences professor Andy Towers said, "Baby boomers worldwide are drinking more than previous generations of older adults and many are drinking at harmful levels.
"We need to take action now to cut the rate of hazardous drinking in this group, maintain their health and reduce reliance on care."
Research found that older drinkers present a unique set of challenges, particularly for clinicians and health professionals, due to higher physiological sensitivity to alcohol; more co-morbid health conditions; the use of medicines which alcohol can interfere with; a higher risk of alcohol-linked mental health issues; and a greater likelihood of alcohol-related injuries and death.
Research also found that, despite seeing their GPs frequently, many older drinkers are falling through the cracks as health professionals often lacked specific training on how to identify key risks for older drinkers, as well as the use of inappropriate tools which neglect key health-related risk factors.
Dr David Newcombe, Director of the Centre for Addiction Research at the University of Auckland, said, "Many older adults and their GPs feel uncomfortable discussing alcohol use, many do not understand what a standard drink is nor what the low-risk guidelines are, and many labour under the assumption - now seriously in question - that a bit of alcohol is good for you."
Lead researcher Dr Adrienne Withall, from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW Australia, added, "Older drinkers can be hard to engage but doctors need to do better to ensure they establish trust and rapport before asking about alcohol use.
"We need to get the message out there that older people should ideally limit their drinking to one standard drink a day with two alcohol free days per week. Unfortunately, we believe that there is no safe level of drinking for people with dementia."