Plymouth region faces "time bomb"
THE Plymouth region is facing a ticking "time bomb" if it cannot successfully tackle a growing drinking problem among the elderly, experts have warned.
It is estimated that one in five older men and one in ten older women drink enough to harm themselves in the Westcountry.
That is a rise of 40 per cent in men and 100 per cent in women over the past 20 years.
Easily available alcohol and a disintegration of traditional community life has led to a surge in the amount of people drinking or experiencing problems as they get older, boffins have warned.
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With a quarter of the population in the South West expected to be aged 65 or over by 2033, experts are concerned it could put an increased strain on the West's already over-burdened health service.
Jez Bayes, alcohol strategy lead for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said awareness needed to be raised so the problem could be tackled.
"If I was writing a tabloid headline the phrase I'd use would be 'time bomb'," he said. "We really have to get to grips with it now and make people aware of sensible drinking levels.
"If you think about the generation that are in their sixties now compared to say the generation before them, there's a lot more choice when they are shopping. Alcohol is much more likely to be in your weekly grocery and for supermarkets it's one of the biggest lures. It's a way of trying to win customers from other supermarkets.
"It's now available pretty much 24-7. If you go back 30 or 40 years ago, it was at pubs, it was social. It was much more expensive relative to the cost of living."
"It's now much more likely to be taken for granted that you have got alcohol in the home."
It is thought that about a third of pensioners with drink problems develop them for the first time in later life.
In Devon, the highest rate of alcohol admissions between October 2011 and September 2012 were in older age groups, according to the council, "reflecting the long-term effects of alcohol-use through life."
Last week Cornwall Council, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) and Addaction Cornwall used Older People's Day to highlight the issue.
According to its statistics, older people are more sensitive to alcohol's effects, react more slowly, tend to lose their sense of balance, and their livers becomes less efficient at breaking down alcohol as they age.
It said reasons for alcohol abuse in old age include bereavement, loneliness, pain, ill health, disability and depression.
Felicity Owen, director of public health in Cornwall, added: "As the population of older people in Cornwall grows, what we don't want to see is the problems associated with drink and drugs also increasing.
"The effects are often greater for older people and it becomes more difficult for people to deal with them."