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The case for moderation in drinking at all ages

Should the fact a large number of elderly people are drinking alcohol at home every day be surprising?

For a long time it was assumed excessive drinking was a problem of the young, but research by consumer analysts Mintel shows that, while one in five of those over 65 years drink at home every day, only one in nine between 18 and 24 do the same.

It is hard to know precisely why this should be but some of it may be because of changing cultural attitudes around alcohol. For example, the research shows the drink of choice for the elderly at home is wine, which has become much more popular in the last 30 years. The baby boomer generation also retired on pensions that gave them incomes to spend on consumables. In addition, it has the spare time in which to enjoy them. The elderly may also feel they have worked hard for a long time and have earned the right to a glass of wine with dinner or a daily G&T.

This is perfectly understandable and there will always be older people who enjoy alcohol moderately without great risk to their health. But, even so, the research raises some cause for concern. It shows that, not only are the over-65s the most frequent daily drinkers, they are also among the least likely to cut back on how much they drink.

This may be because ingrained habits are harder to shift later in life, but the potential consequences for the health of older Scots are serious, not to mention the possible burden on the NHS. Daily drinking is a worry, regardless of age. The official advice is that women should drink no more than a maximum of 14 units a week, while men should drink no more than 21 units but the advice for both sexes is there should be at least two alcohol-free days each week.

Drinking excessively in our older years also comes with particular risks: it can contribute to mental health problems, alcohol can react badly with medication or it can increase the risk of falling over at home.

Excessive drinking among older people may also be a symptom of wider problems, such as social isolation, depression and boredom, but it cannot be tackled in isolation; it has to be taken on as part of a bigger strategy on Scotland's relationship with drink.

Drinking at home has not just increased among older people, it has increased across all age groups, and part of the explanation is the price of alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences.

The Scottish Government's stalled attempts on minimum pricing may help address the issue of cheap drink and it should be supported.

But excessive drinking will not change until it is tackled in the way smoking has been in recent years. Over the years, a number of high-profile campaigns have reduced the numbers who smoke; a similar strategy on alcohol is needed.

But the Government cannot just lecture the elderly on alcohol; it needs to support them as well. As the campaigns on smoking have shown, Scots of all ages can change bad habits but they cannot change without considerable help.

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Food and drink

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