Safe recommended drinking limits should be slashed for the over-65s to take into account the effects of ageing, according to a doctors' report urging more action to tackle alcohol and drug misuse among the elderly.
Separate guidance on safe drinking levels for over-65s should be issued by the Government as current recommended limits are based on younger adults and are too high for the elderly, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said in a report titled Our Invisible Addicts.
Recommendations include screening by GPs for substance misuse amongst the over-65s, as part of a routine health check and a public health campaign on alcohol and drug misuse targeted at older people.
Recent evidence has shown that the upper safe limit for older men is 1.5 units of alcohol a day, the college said, compared to a current recommendation for men of not regularly drinking more than three to four units daily.
For women over 65, the limits should be lowered from not regularly drinking more than two to three units a day to possibly to just one unit a day, according to Dr Tony Rao, a consultant in old age psychiatry and a member of the working group that drew up the report.
"As we age, there are other accompanying factors such as increasing memory problems and physical health problems and less of an ability to get rid of alcohol from the blood stream," he said. "This means that the effects of what we would currently call the safe limits are actually more damaging for older people."
A third of older people with alcohol problems develop them in later life, often as a result of changes such as retirement or bereavement, or feelings of boredom, loneliness and depression, according to the report.
Professor Ilana Crome, professor of addiction psychiatry and chairman of the working group, said: "We hope this report highlights the scale of the problem, and that the multiple medical and social needs of this group of people are not ignored any longer."
Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "This report calls for much greater recognition that excessive drinking in older age is both widespread and preventable, particularly if public health professionals are supported and trained to spot the signs and take appropriate action."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "Alcohol misuse is a major public health issue, no matter what age you are. We are already taking action to tackle problem drinking, including plans to stop supermarkets selling below-cost alcohol and working to introduce a tougher licensing regime."