Seniors Who Drink Should Be Alcohol Aware

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When we hear about Alcohol Awareness, we often think of alcoholism, or perhaps driving under the influence or teen drinking. Issues related to seniors and drinking tend to get short shrift.

But awareness is a pretty broad term, and at Home Instead Senior Care Central Oregon, we think that it is just as important to be aware of the effects that any level of alcohol consumption has on different people during different stages of their lives as it is to be aware of the signs of alcoholism or the damage that can occur as a result of alcohol abuse.

In fact, a study released by the University of San Diego last fall shows that roughly one out of every three older adults drank more alcohol than they should according to health guidelines.

This isn’t due to an epidemic of binge drinking among the nation’s seniors. In fact, chances are, only a small percentage of these people would be considered problem drinkers.

It is, in part, because, as we age our ability to metabolize alcohol decreases. Therefore, so does our recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the American Geriatrics Society, people 65 or older are engaged in risky drinking if they consume more than seven alcoholic drinks per week or more than three drinks on a single day.  It is highly recommended that the single-occasion drink limit should be no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women.

That’s assuming that there are no other factors that would make it unwise for a senior to drink at all. But, in fact, for many seniors, even consuming very small amounts of alcohol can have negative effects, such as:

  • Complicating treatment for medical conditions
  • Increasing the risk of the more than 60 diseases associated with alcoholism, including cirrhosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia
  • Reducing the ability to function
  • Increasing the risk of accidents or falling down
  • Negatively interacting with prescription medications

The issue becomes more serious for being swept under the rug. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCAAD), alcohol dependence among adults 60 and older is one of the fastest growing health problems facing the country.  Yet, the situation remains underestimated, underidentified, underdiagnosed, and undertreated.

The NCAAD says the reasons for this include:

  • Health care providers tend to overlook alcohol or drug problems among older people, mistaking the symptoms for dementia, depression, or other problems common to older adults.
  • Older adults are more likely to hide their alcohol or drug use and less likely to seek professional help.
  • Many relatives of older individuals with substance use disorders, particularly their adult children, are living in denial or ashamed of the problem and choose not to address it

If you suspect that a senior in your life is having issues related to alcohol – even if it’s not necessarily drinking what would normally be classified as too much, it’s important to intervene right away.

  • Talk to your senior and their doctor about their alcohol consumption, as well as any medications or treatment plans that might be jeopardized by their drinking
  • Identify trigger times (when your senior reaches for a drink) and organize diversions to help them avoid temptation
  • If quitting is necessary, explain this to your senior and work out a plan so that they have the support they need

For more information about the health and well-being of seniors, please contact 541-330-6400.


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