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7 Sep 2023

COVID-19, social relationships and mental health: Talking about alcohol in later life.

Older couple drinking wine

In conversation (video): COVID-19, social relationships and mental health. Talking about alcohol in later life.

Dr Beth Bareham, Research Associate from Newcastle University, speaks to Kate Bowman, content producer for the Later Life Audio and Radio Cooperative (LLARC) in the second of a series of video conversations about alcohol and older people. In this session, they talk about how the Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on older adults’ drinking habits.

Alcohol is related to over 60 health conditions, including high blood pressure, liver disease, depression, and many types of cancer. Older people aged 50-years or over experience the most alcohol related harm in the UK and in many other countries.

This discussion focusses on the topic of alcohol in later life. It explores the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drinking behaviour, social relationships, and mental health amongst older adults.

Dr Bareham said: “The pandemic really did escalate alcohol use for a subset of older adults, and about 32% of older people increased their drinking during the pandemic.”

“There was another subset, where about a fifth actually reduced their drinking. They tended to be people who recognised that their drinking might escalate during this really stressful time and actually kind of tried to buckle down on their health behaviour, make sure that they came through it as healthy as possible.”

Kate Bowman, from the Later Life Audio and Radio Cooperative, said: “I know when I was looking at the literature for my work, there was an awful lot about social isolation and feeling that you weren’t connected anymore with your families, your friends, your parents, whatever it might be. And alcohol became a bit of a prop to help you get through that.”

Watch the conversation

This video was produced by Dr Jenny Liddle and Dr Nav Aujla, who are Research Fellows from the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Multi-morbidity, Ageing and Frailty theme, and filming was supported by Newcastle University.

Dr Beth Bareham

Dr Beth Bareham is post-doctoral researcher with a focus upon late-life alcohol use. Her work aims to understand and support older people’s alcohol-related decisions, with view of addressing alcohol-related harm in the older population. She completed her doctorate in Public Health at Newcastle University in 2019, which looked to identify health and psychosocial factors shaping late life drinking.

She has a background in health psychology, and also draws upon social theory in her work. She also spent three months working as an embedded researcher with Drink Wise Age Well – a Glasgow-based programme at the forefront of prevention and treatment services to address alcohol-related harm amongst the older population.

She is currently working on a project funded the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC), looking to understand better the lived experience of older people who have co-occurring alcohol and mental health problems, and think about what holistic and integrated and tailored support for older adults with these co-occurring conditions might look like.

Find out more about the project

You can follow Dr Beth Bareham on Twitter @BKBareham

View Dr Beth Bareham’s Research Profile

Find out more about our Multi-morbidity, ageing and frailty theme.

Further resources and reading

Conversation 1 – Introducing alcohol and older people

Conversation 3 – How can individuals, professionals and organisations support improved understanding of alcohol in later life?

Drink Aware

Know your numbers