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Aging gracefully is sometimes easier said than done. Senior citizens, anyone aged 65 or older, face a number of challenges, from ailing health to the loss of a spouse and close friends. Many seniors suffer from depression that can stem from a lack of mobility or a greater sense of isolation.
Now, there is some evidence to suggest that the elderly might be drinking more alcohol than is considered safe.
The Washington Post reported on a study that took place in a small section of London, south of the River Thames. Researchers from King’s College London found that out of 9,200 seniors living in the borough, 2,000 of them were considered problem drinkers.
Though this data came from a relatively tiny sampling, it has opened a larger conversation about alcoholism and alcohol abuse in the aging segment of our population.
What are Some Reasons for Elderly Alcohol Abuse?
- Job loss due to age or the lack of skills needed to keep up with technology
- More free time in retirement
- Grief over the death of a spouse or another loved one
- Depression caused by poor health and lower income
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends that seniors limit alcohol consumption to one drink a day for a number of reasons. Sensitivity to alcohol increases with age.
Even a person who drank heavily while younger will respond differently to alcohol when they’re older. Past the age of 60, our bodies cannot metabolize and discharge alcohol as efficiently.
What are the Negative Side Effects of Drinking After 60?
- Higher blood alcohol levels per drink
- Longer lasting intoxication
- Increases risk of diabetes and congestive heart failure
- Exacerbates memory loss issues
- Causes high blood pressure, hypertension and anemia
- Permanently damages liver, kidneys, heart, brain and central nervous system
Doctors report they’re often not aware of alcohol abuse among their elderly patients, which is cause for concern. Many prescription and over the counter medications can increase the health risks of drinking too much.
Memory loss due to alcohol can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease, and it may even mask the pain of a heart attack.
Men are 5 times more likely to develop alcoholism, but according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women are more likely to become alcoholics late in life.
Data suggests that elderly women are prone to drinking in response to a traumatic or significant life change.
One question that both female and male seniors face is how to know if they’re drinking too much.
What are the Signs of Alcohol Dependency?
While not everyone who drinks has a problem, some of the signs of dependency include:
- Lying about how much you’ve had to drink or hiding alcohol
- Drinking to forget or because of depression
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol and must drink more
- Continuing to drink despite associated health problems
- Feeling unhappy or uptight when not drinking
Nearly as many senior citizens are admitted to hospitals for alcohol related problems as there are admissions for heart attacks, according to one survey. Experts worry about the burden that too much drinking among the elderly could have on the health care system.
By 2040, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65.
The news is not all bad. On the whole, drinking declines with age. The National Institute on Aging reports that seniors who seek treatment have a good chance of recovery because they’re likely to stick to a therapy program, especially when the focus of the program is on the elderly.
Getting old is not easy. It’s important that as a society, we pay attention to the needs and issues of our aging relatives and friends, and reach out at the first sign of a problem.