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Alcohol a growing problem among the elderly

Alcohol abuse among the elderly is a ticking time bomb. Pensioners today have more years and more money to develop serious drinking problems.

Vanhan naisen kädet, alkoholi
Women often drink in secret and in quantities that have surprised experts. Image: Karoliina Haapakoski / Yle

"There is now a retired drinking generation that is accustomed to using alcohol. Life changes associated with aging, such as retirement or widowhood can leave a void which is filled by alcohol," explains Mari Sipola, the director of substance abuse programmes in Kemi.

Drinking problems among the elderly can develop almost unnoticed.

"The physical and psychological changes alcohol causes can easily be explained away as the effects of aging," Sipola points out.

Many older people are also reluctant to seek help. They've got by on their own their whole lives and have never sought out help for a personal problem. When they find that they may need it, they either do not know how to get it, or the threshold seems too high to ask for it.

"Generally, by the time an elderly person does ask for help the situation can be very bad and there can be multiple problems," says Sipola

Grannies drinking alone

An increase in drinking is being seen among older people of both genders, but according to Mari Sipola, older women who drink heavily tend to do so in secret.

Grown children often live far away and are unaware of the upsurge in alcohol consumption by mom or dad.

"It can be a complete surprise to the children and they can be very shocked hearing that a parent has an alcohol problem,"  Sipola relates.

The elderly need new types of substance abuse services. Mari Sipola says that present services are not designed to meet the needs of older people, but rather for people of working age and for the young.

"The elderly need, for example, services that come into their homes and put more stress on managing and getting by from day to day. They need their own type of peer support and networking. The substance abuse aid system also needs to take their families better into consideration," says Mari Sipola.

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