What Seniors Should Know about Alcohol Consumption
This article was updated on: 09/15/2018
Even a little bit of alcohol can lead to serious problems, according to the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging. Alcohol consumption is a factor in 60% of falls, 50% of drownings, and 40% of car crashes. Its effects in seniors can be particularly insidious, because they can be mistaken for other conditions often affecting seniors, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Before you drink, learn the important facts about aging and alcohol.
How much alcohol consumption is too much for seniors?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate drinking as no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. It defines heavy drinking as 15 or more drinks per week in men, and eight or more drinks a week in women.
It’s important to note that the CDC says the vast majority of people with heavy alcohol consumption do not meet the medical criteria for an alcohol use disorder. However, if you notice any of the following signs in seniors who drink, they may indicate a severe alcohol consumption disorder:
- Being unable to limit or stop drinking
- Continuing to drink even if the alcohol consumption is causing personal or professional problems
- Increasing your alcohol consumption to get the same effect
- Wanting to drink so badly you can’t think of anything else
What problems can alcohol consumption cause in seniors?
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) notes that alcohol consumption can affect seniors differently than it affects younger people. The “high” you experience from alcohol can cause accidents and falls. This is especially concerning for seniors, because they have thinner bones, which means they fracture more easily. NIA cites research suggesting that the rate of hip fractures in seniors increases with alcohol consumption.
Aside from accidents and falls, alcohol consumption can also contribute to the following health problems in seniors:
- Certain forms of cancer, brain and liver damage, and immune disorders.
- Worsening of high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, stomach ulcers, mood disorders, and memory problems.
- Increased risk of stroke.
- Changes in the blood vessels and heart that may obscure the warning signs of a heart attack.
In addition, alcohol consumption in seniors may also cause confusion and forgetfulness, symptoms that may be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Alcohol consumption may also cause dangerous interactions with prescription and over-the-counter medications frequently taken by seniors. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of certain medications, and increase the sedative effects of others. These effects may be more pronounced in women as they age, according to the NIAAA.
What should I do if I suspect my loved one has excessive alcohol consumption?
The CDC notes that alcohol consumption affects individual seniors differently, due to a variety of factors such as age, sex, general health status, and even family history. However, if you believe that alcohol consumption may be adversely affecting the health of someone you love, the CDC recommends that you contact a doctor or other trusted health care provider to request an assessment.
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