How Much is Too Much? Seniors and Alcohol Consumption

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Donna Mae Scheib

How Much is Too Much? Seniors and Alcohol Consumption

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on July 13, 2018

How Much is Too Much? Seniors and Alcohol Consumption

Although seniors on average drink less than other age groups, data from a national survey taken in comparison from 2002-2003 to 2012-2013 show that over 50% of those aged 65 and older stated that they drank alcohol in the past year. Older adults also hit close to 4% overall participation in high-risk drinking (5 drinks daily for older men, 4 drinks daily for older women) which is a 65% increase in past data. Alcohol consumption is a personal choice that is influenced by various social, cultural, familial, and religious factors. It is often done in moderation without serious ramifications; however, as we age, alcohol may become more potent and have increased harmful effects on our bodies.

Why does alcohol consumption have heightened risks for older adults?

  • The slowing down of metabolism (the rate at which we burn calories) heightens the effects of alcohol more quickly. This increased sensitivity means that it may take only one drink rather than three to “feel” the alcohol’s presence in your body.
  • Our bodies process alcohol as a depressant that can slow our reflexes and we are not able to be as alert and in control for simple tasks. As the potency of alcohol is increased as we age, impaired judgment can quickly onset and our safety may become impaired as the risk of falling, fractures and car accidents can increase.
  • Seniors are more likely to have a chronic illness or other health problems that require medication. The mixing of alcohol and various medications can have dangerous effects on our bodies by weakening the medicine’s effects and triggering harmful side effects including extreme cases of loss of consciousness and death.
  • Consumption of alcohol can contribute to the advancing of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia as it can speed up the rate of the killing of brain cells.
  • Seniors are more prone to other illnesses such as depression. Again, as alcohol acts as a depressant in our bodies, alcohol can heighten symptoms of depression and other mood swings.
  • Alcohol consumption is also associated with less quality sleep which seniors may already be sensitive too as insomnia is more common as we get older.
  • Medical diagnosis of various illnesses and cardiac arrest may be more difficult to pinpoint as the side effects of alcohol may impose common symptoms associated with them.

Can I still safely drink as an older adult?

Choosing to drink has always remained a personal decision, but as we get older it may be important to ask ourselves why we drink. If it is something that you enjoy doing with family and friends, it is best to do so in moderation. Be aware of medications that you are taking (both prescription and over the counter) and avoid drinking before performing tasks needing concentration like driving or cooking. Family members and friends of older adults should remain involved and aware of excessive drinking taking place. Although it may be an uncomfortable topic to bring up, your involvement can help to save and improve the quality of life of your loved one. If drinking is something that you have never really enjoyed, it may be best to just avoid doing so or to choose alcoholic beverages with less percentage of alcohol. 

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