Alcohol use in later life: older people's perspective

Elizabeth Ward, Marian Barnes, B. Gahagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – There has been increasing recognition that alcohol may be a source of problems for older people. This has been reflected in the increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions for people over 65. Although a neglected area in policy and research within the UK, studies from health and social care practice have drawn attention to the complexity of the issues for practitioners. This paper seeks to report on qualitative research which aims to generate a wider evidence base by exploring the circumstances in which older people drink; the meaning that drinking alcohol has for them and its impact; and acknowledging that this can be a pleasurable and positive experience, as well as something that can have adverse health, financial, personal and interpersonal impacts. Design/methodology/approach – A major challenge of the research, given the sensitive nature of the topic, was how to approach older people and ask about their experiences of alcohol use. A participatory methodology was developed in which older people were actively involved in designing and carrying out the research. Older co-researchers conducted 21 individual interviews and three focus groups with a diverse range of older research participants from different backgrounds and circumstances. Findings – The findings indicate that participants engaged in different drinking styles which are connected to complex relationships between individual biographies, personal circumstances and external factors. Recommendations for practice and policy development are made on the basis of these findings. Originality/value – This is a sensitive topic involving stigma and practitioners have highlighted issues around lack of training and appropriate referral services as well as difficulties in approaching the topic with older people. In addition, there is a tension in the drive to promote service users' rights to have choices and the question of whether to intervene if those choices involve risky behaviour. Even less is known about the perspectives of older people themselves and more research is needed to understand the social, cultural and economic contexts of older people's drinking behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-247
Number of pages9
JournalQuality in Ageing and Older Adults
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011


  • Alcohol
  • Biography
  • Drinking practices
  • Participatory research
  • Personal health


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