Alcohol use amongst older people is a neglected area in research and in policy and practice. Although alcohol use has attracted a significant amount of government and media attention in the last decade, this has been dominated by the spotlight on younger people’s drinking. There is very restricted research about older people’s experience of alcohol and because of this, their reasons for drinking and the kinds of services and responses they would like to see to alcohol related health and social problems are not well documented.
This project grew out of collaboration between Age Concern Brighton, Hove and Portslade, the Drug and Alcohol Action Team and the Adult Social Care Team at Brighton and Hove City Council. The partnership grew to include the Primary Care Trust, the Sheltered Housing Team and Health and researchers from SSPARC and funding was secured from the Brighton and Sussex Community Knowledge Exchange (BSCKE) to carry out the research.
The project commenced in 2007 and ended in 2008.
The purpose of this research was to build on the previous scoping study and generate a wider evidence base by asking older people themselves about the role of alcohol in their lives.
The aim was to provide an angle that previous research has tended to neglect, namely, understanding people’s life journeys as they get older, the kinds of issues they face, their problems and concerns and how alcohol may relate to these factors.
A key theme in the proposal was that older people should be trained to carry out the research with the dual purpose that it would be beneficial for them personally in terms of developing further skills and would also create expertise which could be drawn on in other community research projects.
This was a small scale qualitative study conducted in selected areas of Brighton and Hove. We do not claim we have a representative picture of older people‟s use of alcohol, but this study does offer insights into how a selection of older people view their drinking and what it means to them. In view of the limited research on this topic this study makes a useful contribution to understanding. Although we cannot know how typical the older people we spoke to were, the focus group discussions did enable us to get a wider perspective by asking participants to reflect on the relationship between ageing and alcohol use more generally.
Older people drink in different ways for different reasons. For some it is associated with pleasurable social interaction or time for themselves. In other cases drink fills an absence in their lives and may have become an activity they cannot live without. Having an active engagement in activities involving others or having a role seems to play an important mediating role for those who might be tempted to drink too much. Drinking companions may be a source of both friendship and problems.
Within our sample any harm that was caused was to participants themselves rather than others in most cases. Those who drink heavily were rarely in situations where they are caring for others and their drinking did not spill out into public behaviours that cause difficulty or offence to others.
Amongst those we spoke to there was often an awareness of their drinking and a wish to maintain control of it – even in situations where others might suggest they were being reckless with their health. Many of the participants were both critical of and negatively impacted by public drunkenness of younger people.
Download the Cheers! report (PDF)
Dr Lizzie Ward
Professor Marian Barnes
Beatrice Gahagan, Age Concern, Brighton, Hove and Portslade
Age Concern, Brighton, Hove and Portslade
Brighton & Hove City Council
Brighton & Sussex Community Knowledge Exchange