A new study led by Simon Coulton, Professor of Health Services Research at the Centre for Health Services Studies, University of Kent, aims to improve services for over-55s caught up in "risky drinking".
Traditionally, risky drinking in young men and women receives most attention but the aging process means that older people experience alcohol-related problems at lower consumption levels. It is now estimated that 60% of older people coming into hospital because of repeated falls, confusion, chest infections and heart failure have undiagnosed alcohol problems.
Professor Coulton's study, which is funded by the NHS National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment Programme, aims to determine whether screening by GPs followed by brief psychosocial interventions, which are stepped up in intensity, can help.
He explained: "After identifying those who need help, the first step is behavioural counselling. If further help is required then the client is offered three sessions of motivational therapy. The third step is referral to specialist services."
Professor Coulton also states that the existing evidence appears to show that, if offered treatment, older people are more likely to benefit from it. However, this is currently an under-researched area and, with the older population in the UK growing fast, one of increasing urgency.
The study, which will be conducted in association with the University of York, will compare a large group of people who receive the stepped treatment programme with a similar group who only receive minimal help. It will also investigate the economic benefits of the stepped approach.