19 Jul Alcohol Use in Older Adults
Most older adults drink responsibly. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, the prevalence of heavy alcohol use is lower among adults ages 65 and older than among other adult age groups.
However, as the body ages, the way it is able to process and metabolize alcohol changes. Overall, aging increases our sensitivity to alcohol and lessens our ability to tolerate it. As we age, the amount of water in the body decreases which means there is less water to dilute any alcohol consumed. Therefore, older adults will feel the effects of drinking (slurred speech, lack of coordination, sleepiness) more quickly than younger people.
Furthermore, alcoholic beverages can negatively impact chronic health problems and diseases many seniors already have. For example, serious side effects may occur when taking prescribed and over-the-counter medications including herbal remedies. Consequently, the two or three glasses of wine mom has every evening at cocktail hour or the double martini dad drinks each night may adversely affect their health. This is especially true after the age of 65.
Alcohol and Disease
Alcohol can make these common health problems in older adults worse:
- Congestive heart failure
- Liver problems
- Memory problems/dementia
- Mood disorders including anxiety and depression
- Balance and coordination issues
Alcohol and Medications
Alcohol may cause problems with many different medications including:
- Aspirin and arthritis medications (increase risk of stomach bleeding)
- Acetaminophen (increase risk of liver damage)
- Cold and allergy medications (increase drowsiness)
- High blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, and ulcer medications (may worsen conditions)
Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Seniors
The signs of alcohol abuse in the senior population is different from younger groups. For example, the elderly prefer to drink at home by themselves, avoiding restaurants and bars. Other warning signals include:
- Drinking in spite of warning labels on medicine bottles
- A person often seems tipsy, confused, or is slurring speech
- Unusual amounts of empty liquor bottles in the garbage
- Anxious, depressed, or hostile
- Almost immediate change of personality after taking a drink
- Persistent sleeping, loss of appetite, neglecting appearance
Communicate Your Concerns
Seniors may not be aware of their body’s increased sensitivity to alcohol. Have an open, loving, and honest dialogue with your loved one and explain the facts about drinking and aging. For example, “Dad, did you know that after the age of 65 drinking two or three beers is the same as having four or five at the age of 50.” Or, “Mom were you aware recommendations state one drink per day is considered the maximum amount for moderate alcohol use for people over 65?”
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