Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly
Once you pass the age of 65 you enter the demographic of the elderly. This is a group about whose alcohol use there is scant data. Perhaps this is because alcohol use is routinely screened out of other studies focusing on physiological diseases among the elderly, but whatever the explanation with the tidal wave of baby boomers entering the ranks of the elderly more data on the elderly and drinking will be needed.
Lifetime Versus Late Onset Drinking Habits
Studies to date tell us that few elderly Americans take up drinking after retirement. Instead, most people develop drinking habits in younger years which follow them into their older life. Some reports suggest that about 75 percent of older Americans who drink heavily are merely continuing patterns established before the age of 60. Only 33 percent develop late onset over-drinking according to research. Whatever was culturally acceptable during youth follows people into their retirement years.
Alcohol As a Factor in Other Medical Issues
While alcohol always impacts health regardless of age, there may be plenty of ways it is negatively impacting the physical health of the older generation. Broken hips and hip fractures are almost axiomatic with older age, but it is possible that many of those injuries could be attributable to alcohol consumption. We do know that there is a link between alcohol use and hip injury among the elderly.
One of the harder aspects of aging is the loss of independence. Perhaps the greatest symbol of adult independence is the privilege of driving. Yet, as we age, our risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident rises. It continues to rise every year until at age 80 when we are more likely to be involved in an automobile accident than a 16 year old beginner at the wheel. Add alcohol to that equation and the risks become astronomical.
Along with a gradual loss of independence is the loss of health. Health issues lead older Americans to be enormous consumers of prescription medications. Yet the negative effects of alcohol on an aging brain make proper use of prescription medication a recurring problem. Alcohol tends to make the elderly less reliable in taking medications according to their prescription and the mixing of alcohol and prescription medications is a recipe for danger.
Alcohol and Aging
Another factor which affects older people who drink is the changes which occur in their body chemistry. An elderly man and a young man can drink the same amount of alcohol, but the older man will end up with a more potent blood alcohol content (BAC) simply because his body has less water available to dilute the alcohol. This also means that after 65 the same amount of alcohol will affect the drinker more intensely than it did in past years. Thus, unchanging drinking habits of a lifetime can actually have worse impact.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of an alcohol problem in an elderly person may frequently be excused away as relating either to normal aging or another medical condition. Before we are faced with a large population of elderly patients, we need get a better handle on the facts relating to alcohol use and the elderly.