An increasing number of older people are drinking above recommended limits, leaving them at greater risk of developing mental health problems.
A study by researchers at South London and Maudsley (SLaM) and the Institute of Psychiatry shows that many older people are misusing alcohol and that intervention by mental health professionals can help them.
The UK is witnessing an unprecedented rise in the proportion of people over 65 drinking above recommended limits. In the past decade the number of this group admitted to acute hospitals with alcohol-related problems has risen by 127 percent. Those with known mental health disorders are more than 10 percent of these patients but this is the "tip of the iceberg" with older people's mental health services seeing just a small fraction of these admissions.
This study, led by Dr Tony Rao, consultant old age psychiatrist at SLaM, examined admissions seen by older people's mental health services in south east London between 2006 and 2011. Over three quarters of 108 patients with alcohol misuse had accompanying mental disorders such as depression or alcohol-related brain injury. Of the 50 patients taken on by community mental health teams, nearly 40 percent achieved either total abstinence or controlled drinking at a six-month follow-up.
A concern from the study was the lack of a consistent approach to referral of older people to community services. However, the main finding was that when older people with mental health problems resulting from alcohol misuse were treated within mainstream mental health services, there were positive outcomes.
Dr Rao said: "The numbers of older patients on hospital wards with alcohol misuse being seen by mental health services is still only a small fraction of those who may need to be seen.
"More elderly people with mental health problems relating to alcohol need to be referred and when they are, there is a strong chance they will improve in mainstream community mental health teams."
The report has been backed up by the UK's leading alcohol misuse agency, Alcohol Concern. Eric Appleby, Chief Executive, said: "This research shows just how important it is to have effective joined up working and the right services in place to make sure older people don't suffer alone."