Alcohol abuse in the elderly population appears to be under-reported. The severity of the problem often goes unnoticed as there are fewer opportunities to observe possible red flags in drinking behavior. The elderly generally drink at home alone, don’t have work related problems due to drinking, and have less chance of driving under the influence. Changes that one might normally associate with aging appear, and when those changes are increased slightly or significantly due to alcohol use, it is often missed.
As one ages, the body is unable to metabolize alcohol as it could when it was younger. This means that an elderly individual must drink less alcohol than a middle aged person in order to remain safe. According to the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), more than one drink per day or seven alcoholic beverages in one week are considered unhealthy for the elderly population.
In the elderly, signs of alcohol abuse could include:
- Physical deterioration including increased accidents or injuries, loss of coordination, poorly controlled medical conditions, ulcers, or diagnosed liver disease
- Behavior changes such as decreased self care, failure to keep appointments, increased isolation from friends and family members, slurred speech, frequent drowsiness, or changes in daily routines
- Mental and emotional changes such as a decline in cognitive functioning, increased forgetfulness, and an increase in mood swings
Alcohol abuse can also be mistaken for depression, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s Disease if the physician is not aware of the individual’s alcohol use. There is also a significant risk of interaction between prescription drugs and alcohol in this population.
Elderly individuals that regularly drink in excess will gradually losing their ability to live independently. If you are a friend or a family member concerned about an elderly person’s drinking and you are not sure what to do next, seek out help. Enlist a physician’s help or find a local therapist who specializes in geriatrics and alcohol addiction. You can find some additional resources HERE.