When we think about health problems caused by too much alcohol consumption, we might think of this as a problem that only affects binge-drinking young people and struggling alcoholics. However, there’s another group that is being warned by doctors to cut down on the spirits: adults over 65.
In a recent study from Newcastle and Sunderland Universities in the UK, researchers are pointing to heavy drinking among elderly adults as a “hidden problem” that needs to be addressed. According to the study, a high percentage of aging adults don’t recognize that they are heavy drinkers if they don’t believe they are dependent on alcohol or have problems directly attributed to drinking.
Drinking Levels for the Elderly ‘Should be Halved’
Doctors and health officials are recommending that safe limit guidelines for people over the age of 65 should be half that of normal guidelines. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption in the U.S. is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. (One standard drink = 12 oz of beer, 8 oz of malt liquor, 5 oz of wine or 1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled liquor.)
As we age, our metabolism begins to slow down – which means that chemicals like alcohol stay in our systems longer. Too many drinks can increase the risk of injury from a fall, interfere with other prescription medications, mask the symptoms of dementia or lead to a host of other health complications.
Despite the risks of heavy drinking in old age, studies show that the over-65 age group is likely to drink every day of the week. The study, which aimed to discover the reasons why so many aging adults drink at unhealthy levels, found a complacent attitude regarding alcohol among this age group. Of the 53 men and women aged 65 to 90 interviewed, many had ignored warnings from doctors to cut down on drinking. Several respondents drank more to help deal with bereavement, chronic pain or loneliness. Others saw alcohol as a good way to relax and be more sociable. Dr. Katie Haighton, one of the researchers, noted some confusion among the interviewed group when it comes to the risks of excessive drinking:
“A lot of those we interviewed said the messages around alcohol were very confusing. There is a need to develop new approaches to target the older population, for example longer in-home support, tailored information on the risks from alcohol in later life, or health workers with specific training on older people’s needs.”
Because many older adults drink at home, this is a problem that can easily go unnoticed. The more the topic can be addressed among family members and caretakers, the better chance there will be to catch unhealthy drinking before it causes irreversible damage.
For a list of medications that can cause damage when taken with alcohol, visit the NIH website.