Older People

There is no universally accepted definition of old age. The term older-person in Australia has generally been used to refer to anyone aged 65 years and older with some exceptions, notably Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (see Chapter 15) and persons attending substance use disorder services, where ‘older person’ is often defined as aged 50 years and over (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018; NSW Ministry of Health, 2015).

In 2017 approximately 3.8 million Australians (15% of Australia’s total population) were aged 65 years and over, and over the next 50 years the number of older people in Australia is expected to increase to between 8.6 million and 10.2 million, representing 21-23% of the total population (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018).

Data from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017), of Australians aged 60 years and older indicate that:

  • 10.2% of 60-69 year olds and 13.6% of those aged 70 years and over drank alcohol on a daily basis and 39.7% of 60-69 year olds and 30.4% of those aged 70 years and over drank alcohol on a weekly basis;
  • People in their 60s were the age group most likely to consume 5 or more standard drinks on at least 5 days per week (7% in 2016), while people aged 70 years and over were the least likely to consume alcohol in risky quantities, with only 11% consuming 5 or more drinks on a single occasion in the past year;
  • The proportion of people in their 50s (9.1% to 11.9%) and their 60s (4.7% to 6.1%) consuming 11 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion in the past 12 months significantly increased between 2013 and 2016.

These data are reflected in the near doubling of the number of people aged 50-64 years receiving care in NSW drug and alcohol services over the decade 2004-5 to 2013-14 (NSW Ministry of Health, 2015). The current generation of older people experienced a more liberal social culture toward drinking during their lifetime, which may have contributed to this increase. While the rate of risky drinking declines with age, in health care settings older people are more likely to report alcohol related problems.