Furore over drinking rights for the elderly
The fuss started after the Royal College of Psychiatrists issued a report called Our Invisible Addicts. The report stated that increasing numbers of elderly people are becoming addicted – to alcohol and prescribed drugs in particular – and GPs should screen and advise patients about addiction issues. But many newspaper commentators treated the advice with scorn.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Oliver Pritchett wrote “if we are all to be screened for substance abuse, why not create a branch of the drugs squad specifically to deal with the over-65s? There could be dawn raids, with officers snatching extra-strong mints from elderly ladies, rummaging in the knitting wool for illegal substances, or sniffing the hot water bottle for hidden cherry brandy.”
Alexander Chancellor wrote in The Daily Mail that it is “intolerable for the Government to boss us around in this way. If you can’t drink what you want at the age of 65, what’s the point in staying alive? You have worked hard all your life — and now you are free to relax and have fun. One way to do this is to meet friends for a drink in the pub … Old age brings trials enough without the added humiliation of being told by the Government to drink much less than what is considered perfectly all right for a teenager.”
An 84 year old patient at Castle Craig Hospital
But this is a serious issue and it is true to say that elderly people are more at risk from alcohol than younger adults. It is also true to say that this problem is not really recognized by society or the NHS, in effect it is ignored. We are acutely aware of the problem at Castle Craig and we welcome this report. We are also delighted to have recently admitted a patient who is 84 years old – opening up the opportunity for a new lease of life for this individual. Too many people in this country end their days in nursing homes with early cognitive decline that has been brought on by excessive drinking.
An unpalatable truth
“As people get older they should be careful” said Peter McCann, Chairman of Castle Craig Hospital, “as you age you start to lose grey matter in the brain and drinking alcohol speeds up this process. The sad truth is that excessive drinking in elderly people results in premature dementia. It’s unpopular and unpalatable to say that alcohol is a real threat to the health of the elderly, but it’s true. People tend to point to the exceptions – the Queen Mother, perhaps, or their own relatives who drank frequently and lived to 100 – but people talk about such cases just because they are the exceptions.”