Excessive alcohol consumption is often thought to be the preserve of young people.
However, new research suggests that unhealthy drinking among over-50s is on the up – and many people do not even realise they have a problem.
According to Drink Wise Age Well, a health campaign which is being piloted in Sheffield, one in three older people with an alcohol problem develop it later in life.
Emma Wells, project leader, said changes in circumstances like retirement, bereavement and isolation can be triggers.
“The pattern of drinking is different in older age,” she explained.
“While younger people are better known for binge drinking, older people are more likely to be drinking less but more regularly.
“When the children leave home, or you retire, many people can start drinking more. Whether it’s starting earlier, or having a larger glass, it can go unnoticed as it often takes place at home, not in public.
“It’s about recognising when drink becomes a pattern, not a pleasure.”
Sheffield was chosen to be a pilot city in the Drink Wise Age Well campaign amid growing national concerns about excessive drinking in older age.
In England, studies show that alcohol-related hospital admissions for over-65s between 2002 and 2010 were up by 136 per cent.
Between 2002 and 2012 there was a 150 per cent increase in alcohol-related mental health problems in the over-60s too.
However, the programme is not a service for hardened drinkers. Rather, it’s about guiding people towards healthy life choices as they get older, instead of slipping into bad habits.
The aim of the campaign is two-fold, Emma explains.
On the one hand, it is about raising awareness of how alcohol affects people in older age, giving usable drinking guidelines, helping people gauge their drinking, as well as offering general health advice.
The programme also offers a number of free classes to anybody over 50, including crafts, tai chi, antiques spotting, art group, and DIY for women.
There are also free day trips available, which hundreds of people in Sheffield are making the most of.
Team leader Andy Whitehouse said: “It can be a big deal to push yourself into a social situation, particularly if you’ve been isolated for a period of time.
“People may have negative thoughts about whether they will be liked. But the warmth they receive at our classes and day trips means they always come back.”
Andy said he hopes that, even if funding stops, the campaign will leave a legacy.
He said: “We are creating a network so people can build their own relationships, which is so important. People come, find people in exactly the same situation and they become lifelong friends.
“Group members and volunteers can also set up their own classes and hopefully it will grow and grow, even if funding stops.”
Emma added: “People come to classes to learn, but meeting new people is just as important.
“The sense of purpose, belonging and learning a new skill can have such a positive effect on people.”
A key message behind Drink Wise Age Well is that alcohol doesn’t just affect hardened drinkers. Day-to-day drinking can cause memory problems, loss of sleep and depression – at any age.
But as we get older, alcohol causes other problems too. It can interact negatively with medication, increase the risk of falls, make health problems like diabetes worse and increase blood pressure.
Emma said: “It’s about making people aware that making even small changes can have a big difference. Having smaller glasses, one less drink and alcohol free days is important.”
Drink Wise Age Well, supported by the Big Lottery Fund, is a £25 million UK-wide programme which is being piloted in Sheffield, Glasgow, Cwm Taf in Wales and Devon.
To find out more call 0800 032 3723 or visit drinkwiseagewell.org.uk