Alcohol’s Harmful Effects on Senior Adults

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 5.4 million Americans suffer from this type of dementia. They believe that by 2050 nearly 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s. Other senior citizens will inevitably battle some memory loss due to aging. Younger adults are already looking ahead to what they can do to prevent some of this cognitive loss.

Two studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver have implicated alcohol as another cause of cognitive impairment and memory loss in adults aged 65 and older. Binge drinking and drinking earlier in life proved that people are not only affected by how much alcohol they drink, but their patterns of drinking.

Dangers of Binge Drinking

One study revealed that when senior citizens drank four or more alcoholic beverages in a short period of time, their brain function was slower and memory loss greater than those who did not binge drink.

Statistics from a U.S. Health and Retirement Study, between 2002 and 2010, revealed that binge drinking impaired brain function by 62 percent and accelerated memory loss by 27 percent in senior citizens. Iain Lang, lead author from the University of Exeter’s Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in the U.K., and other researchers studied 5,075 people ages 65 and older.

Those senior citizens in the group who were binge drinkers at least twice a month were 149 percent more likely to have memory decline and were 147 percent more likely to have greater cognitive decline.

If a senior claims that they only drink twice a month, family members or physicians should inquire as to how much the senior is drinking in one sitting.

Decline in Cognitive Function

A second study on alcohol’s effects on senior citizens focused on women and revealed that if the women were heavy drinkers when they were young they were 30 percent more likely to have cognitive impairment. If they started drinking moderately during their senior years, they were 200 percent more likely to have brain impairment.

Clinical research coordinator at San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center and lead author of this study, Tina Hoang, stresses that alcohol has a powerful effect on senior citizens. The brain of seniors seems more vulnerable to alcohol than the brain of younger adults.

Slower Reaction Time

A third study in 2009 at the University of Florida reveals yet another way that seniors are more affected by alcohol than younger adults. Seniors may naturally be slower than the younger crowd, but researchers found that alcohol slowed them even further as they took 5 seconds longer to complete a test. Later reaction time could be a risk for both automobile accidents and personal accidents.

Younger adults and older adults differ in how alcohol affects their brains, but they also may differ in what causes them to be binge drinkers. Youth and the joy of parties with friends may cause young adults to overindulge in alcohol. On the opposite sphere, many older adults drink heavily to combat loneliness or loss. By keeping in touch with seniors, talking with them about their drinking habits, sharing a drink rather than letting them drink alone, and finding treatment for them if they need it, family and friends can help their loved ones drink responsibly.