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Their message was simple and powerful - we need to address ageism and age discrimination in alcohol policy, practice and research."
- Beth Bareham

Newcastle University Institute for Ageing sent Bethany Bareham to the House of Lords for the launch of the 'Calling Time' report. This blog was first posted on the Institute for Ageing website.

On 21 November, Bethany Bareham  travelled to London to join the launch event for the ‘Calling Time’ report at the House of Lords. She tells us about the event and how this links with her PhD research project.

"The Drink Wise Age Well group (DWAW) who commissioned the report, are a strategic partnership of six organisations with expertise in alcohol service delivery, ageing, policy analysis and research. Their message was simple and powerful - we need to address ageism and age discrimination in alcohol policy, practice and research.

Because my work focuses on older people’s drinking, Newcastle University Institute for Ageing supported me to join the discussion. As part of my NIHR School for Primary Care Research Doctoral Fellowship, I have explored the views of older adults and their health and social workers on alcohol use in later life. For me, this was a fantastic opportunity to meet the authors of the studies that have shaped my research, and make links with an organisation that implements the findings of research in my field.

There is no dispute that older adults are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol. The ageing body is less tolerant of alcohol, and older people are more likely to have health conditions and medications that can increase the risks of harm from alcohol consumption. In contrast to all other age groups, older adults in the UK are experiencing increasing harm from their alcohol use. The DWAW report highlights the failure of current policy and practice to target strategies at older people, or identify them as an at-risk group. The authors argue that this is ageist, illegal and discriminatory.

Key takeaways from the event

The authors assert that ‘pervasive misconceptions, attitudes and assumptions based on stereotypes’ amongst health and social care providers leave older people to struggle with problematic consumption without the appropriate support. The assumption that older people are beyond change, due to the typically engrained and habitual nature of their drinking, is at odds with findings that older people benefit more from alcohol interventions than other age groups. Whilst this report focussed on ageism in services for dependent drinkers, my own work has demonstrated how such assumptions made by health and social care workers effect detection and intervention with non-dependent alcohol use amongst older people.

Older age groups are not always included in figures on population alcohol use and misuse, giving the impression that no problem exists. Older people’s drinking is often a more private activity with less dramatic excesses than younger age groups. According to James Nicholls, (director of research and policy development at Alcohol Research UK), this is reflected in turn by the level of interest from policy makers, researchers and intervention developers.

Researchers are also not immune to criticism. Study designs need to be more inclusive of older people, to appropriately explore the effectiveness of alcohol treatments in this age group. The report also highlighted that the ‘older age’ cuts across many demographics, all of which must all be represented within research. My own work is a case in point – older people’s considerations surrounding their drinking vary drastically with the individual’s characteristics and personal circumstances.

According the expert panel launching the report, ageism in policy and clinical practice leads to countless missed opportunities to save and improve lives. DWAW are currently working on a cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate the financial implications of attention and change surrounding this issue. Primary care was also identified as a key setting for intervening with older people’s drinking, and I hope my own study findings will help to clarify what form primary care interventions should take. However, a cultural shift is required, including and extending beyond clinicians. A vision of how to make a start on this in policy, service provision, health and social care, research and funding, are presented within the report. All of us who were present in the House of Lords Committee Room G on Tuesday will eagerly await responses from the organisations at the forefront of the fight against ageism in alcohol work. For now, I have been invited to meet colleagues in Wales and I hope to be able to feed my own findings into the development of older people’s alcohol services and harm prevention strategies. I have returned to Newcastle with a new network of future potential collaborators. Together I hope we will work to make a positive difference in outcomes for older people’s drinking".

The full report is available here

Bethany Bareham, National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research Doctoral Fellow, working across the Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and the Institute of Health and Society