Monday, 4 January 2016

Temperance scaremongering about old people drinking


Accompanied by a stock photograph of a grey-haired couple with a glass of wine, the latest piece of anti-booze scaremongering has hit the news:

New figures show that dangerously high levels of alcohol consumption by baby boomers are leading to growing numbers of over-65s being hospitalised, adding to pressures on the NHS. “The number of older people drinking unsafely and unhealthily is rising at an alarming rate, putting their health at risk and further strain on NHS services,” said Dr Tony Rao, Britain’s leading expert on older people’s drinking.

It seems that boozed-up oldies are swamping the hospitals as they succumb to something called by the doctors "mental and behavioural disorders related to alcohol use". It's not clear what exactly these mental and behavioural disorders are (or indeed whether they are directly related to alcohol or merely exacerbated by drinking). Dr Rao though has seen a huge increase in patients at his clinics:

“Ten years ago I would have been treating no more than three people at any one time for alcohol-related brain damage. Now there are at least 10 patients with that in the service I work in.”

Yes folks, this entire story is about ten people in South London who have Korsakoff Syndrome - hardly a problem that is going to 'bankrupt' the NHS. And we don't even know whether Dr Rao's ten patients are over 65 and whether what they have is Korsakoff Syndrome or some other form of alcohol induced brain damage. The truth here - and this is hinted at in the article - is that the patients admitted to hospital for these 'mental and behavioural disorders' are people with a long history of heavy drinking. This isn't about that couple in the picture having a glass of wine with dinner but about people we might call 'serious drinkers'.

And all this ignores the well-established evidence showing a link between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced incidence of dementia:

The inverse relationship between moderate wine drinking and incident dementia was explained neither by known predictors of dementia nor by medical, psychological or socio-familial factors. These results were confirmed from data of the Rotterdam study. Light-to-moderate drinking (one to three drinks per day) was significantly associated with a lower risk of any dementia (hazard ratio 0.58 [95% CI 0.38-0.90]) and vascular dementia (hazard ratio 0.29 [0.09-0.93]). No evidence that the relation between alcohol and dementia varied by type of alcoholic beverage was found.

Not that the temperance lobby are interested in this sort of evidence. They prefer to scaremonger.


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