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Information for people caring for older people

Things for carers to look out for

Sometimes we can miss the signs that alcohol is harming an older person, or we may mistake them for the ‘normal’ problems that older people can have with their health or their mental function. If you notice any of the following, it might be worth finding out if alcohol might be the cause:

    • Problems sleeping
    • Cognitive impairment, memory or concentration disturbance
    • Frequent falls and unexplained bruising
    • Low mood or depression 
    • Malnutrition, muscle wasting
    • Liver problems
    • Irritability, restlessness or agitation
    • Unexplained chronic pain
    • Incontinence, urinary retention
    • Poor hygiene and self-neglect
    • Blurred vision or dry mouth
    • Unexplained nausea and vomiting
    • Changes in eating habits
    • Slurred speech

    • Tremors (shaking), poor coordination, shuffling walk
    • Seizures (fits)

How you can help

If you are concerned that an older person is drinking in a harmful way, here are some things you can do:

Be curious in exploring some of the reasons they may be drinking

Some common reasons are:

    • Coping with bereavement, the loss of friends, their career or social status
    • Social isolation, loneliness and boredom
    • Dealing with getting older - losing independence or self-esteem, feeling more frail or unwell, needing help with daily living, reduced coping skills

    • Managing the stress of caring for elderly partner or family member or family conflict
    • Physical problems – disability, pain, trouble sleeping
    • The upheaval of moving into residential care

Support them in finding healthier ways to cope

    • Find out about services for older people in their area, including social activities, carers’ supports and mental health support services
    • Help them to develop interests and activities that don’t involve alcohol – rediscovering interests and activities they had in the past, finding new hobbies or opportunities to socialise or volunteer
    • Help them with getting medical advice for physical problems, to avoid them ‘self-medicating’ with alcohol
    • Offer company, practical support and a listening ear

Help them to reduce the amount of alcohol they drink

Make sure they understand the low-risk weekly guidelines and are aware of how much they are drinking. Our drinks calculator can help with this. Our section Drink less gain more has tips on cutting down or giving up, and ideas for drink-free activities

Check their medications and possible interactions with alcohol

Read the information leaflets that come with the medicine, or ask a pharmacist or their GP.

Help them to get professional support

If you know an older person who needs help to cut down or quit drinking, contact their GP and local alcohol service. It can be daunting for an older person to try to get help with drinking problems, so having your support can make a big difference. See out Services section for contact details.

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Where to get help

Find your nearest support group, by selecting your county below