Rehabs ‘failing’ older drinkers

Three quarters of residential alcohol treatment facilities are failing older adults because of ‘arbitrary age limits’, according to a report from Alcohol Research UK.

More than half of alcohol rehabs on PHE’s online directory exclude people at the age of 66, while 75 per cent impose arbitrary age limits of between 50 and 90, says Accessibility and suitability of residential alcohol treatment for older adults. Older people who do access rehab may then drop out because they find the environment ‘unwelcoming or intimidating’, the report adds, with reports of ‘bullying, intimidation, and ageist language and attitudes’.

A determination to be ‘age blind’ also means that facilities are failing to meet the needs of older adults, it states. Three quarters of services surveyed said they had limited or no disabled access, while diversionary activities on offer usually included things such as mountain biking, caving, kayaking or football. Being unable to take part could create a sense of isolation, says the report.

The latest figures from ONS show that older drinkers account for the majority of the UK’s 7,000-plus ‘alcohol-specific’ deaths, with the highest death rate in the 55-64 age group and the death rate among males aged 70-74 up by around 50 per cent since the beginning of this century. Denying older people access to residential treatment could result in ‘avoidable’ deaths, says Alcohol Research UK, which wants to see policies to reduce discrimination and make sure services are more age-friendly, particularly towards people with disabilities or limited mobility.

‘By imposing these discriminatory age limits, alcohol rehabilitation centres are unfairly, and perhaps illegally, excluding older people, who would otherwise benefit from residential treatment,’ said CEO Dr Richard Piper.This is frankly unacceptable. We urge UK governments and rehabilitation providers to implement the recommendations in this report without delay. Getting this right will make these essential services more accessible to and suitable for older people, which will save lives and improve lives, for these drinkers and their families. With more older people than ever requiring treatment, this issue is urgent.’

Meanwhile, a separate Drink Wise, Age Well report in association with Addaction found that practitioners are prioritising younger people in referrals to alcohol treatment, with reasons including perceptions that older drinkers are ‘too old to change’, that their care needs are too complex or that their age and life expectancy mean ‘it’s not worth intervening’. Those over the age of 65 are also excluded from almost half of clinical trials for alcohol treatment or interventions, it adds.

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