Alcohol Consumption And The Elderly: What You Need To Know
Pegasus skilled in-home caregivers in Mount Washington and elsewhere often assist individuals who enjoy alcohol. Some clients ask about the safety of drinking and its effects on their health. Our career home health care nurses explain what you need to know about alcohol consumption and the elderly.
People have been drinking alcohol since the first prehistoric yeast landed on sugary or starchy vegetation. The yeast converted the sugar and starch into alcohol through a chemical process known as fermentation. Fruits, berries, honey, grains, and some vegetables have been made into alcoholic beverages.
Myths and controversies surround alcohol. For the most part, that’s because alcohol affects every person differently. And the way it affects individuals changes as they age.
Alcohol Is Both Helpful And Harmful
Research has proven specific health benefits of consuming alcohol. But statistically, alcohol is the “third leading preventable cause of death” in the United States. How does a substance like alcohol either prolong life or kill an individual prematurely?
Experts explain that “alcohol is both a tonic and a poison.” The difference between helpful and hurtful lies in how much is consumed. Individuals consuming moderate amounts may experience benefits, while heavy drinkers experience problems.
Alcohol affects almost every organ in the body. It affects hormones and chemical processes within the body. It affects feelings and cognition.
Is drinking red wine okay, and other alcoholic beverages the culprit? No. The alcohol itself is the tonic or poison, not the kind of liquid it’s in.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that light to moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. There’s also evidence that moderate drinkers may reduce their risk of gallstones and type 2 diabetes.
A drink before dinner improves digestion for some individuals. Alcohol helps individuals with stress or depression feel better. Many individuals are more at ease at social gatherings if they have a drink first.
Conversely, heavy drinking is a risk factor for:
- Cancer, especially breast cancer
- Heart Attack
These significantly decrease an individual’s quality of life and may become life-threatening.
What Is Moderate Alcohol Consumption?
Moderation limits healthy individuals to one drink a day. That’s no more than:
- 1.5 ounces of spirits
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of beer
One drink on each of seven days throughout the week is moderation. Seven drinks “saved up” to binge on in one day is not moderation.
It’s a myth that it’s safe to consume as much as an individual wants when they’re older. Rather than increasing alcohol tolerance, aging decreases the safe amount. One drink increases the blood alcohol concentration in a senior more than it does in younger people.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measures the “percentage of alcohol per volume of blood.” A senior’s body has a lower volume of water, and their livers are less efficient at detoxifying. Those two factors mean that the percentage of alcohol in their blood remains high.
Other physical changes also impair a senior’s ability to tolerate alcohol. Their enzymes are less able to break down alcohol. Changes in renal function lead to dehydration and further increases BAC.
Seniors often have one or more chronic diseases. As well as increasing their risk of certain medical conditions, alcohol can worsen existing conditions. Individuals with any of the following are well-advised to avoid even light drinking:
- Congestive heart failure
- Liver diseases
Encourage your patients to be frank with their healthcare providers about their drinking habits.
Alcohol Consumption And Safety
Alcohol can affect the safety of individuals of all ages because it impairs their:
- Reaction time
Any impairment increases the risk of accident or injury.
Seniors are more apt to lose their balance and fall when they’ve had a drink. Because their bones are thinner, falls result in fractures that may be difficult to heal.
Perhaps the biggest issue facing the elderly and their consumption of alcohol are their medications. Alcohol interacts with virtually every drug. That includes OTC remedies, some herbs, and prescription medicines.
Some of the interactions are serious. You can help your patient with this checklist of common drugs that interact with alcohol. A pharmacist can provide additional advice regarding harmful interactions.
Contrary to popular belief, drinking coffee does not reduce BAC or otherwise reduce the effect of alcohol. Caffeine makes drinkers think they can safely consume more alcohol. Most seniors should avoid energy drinks and other caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
Does Your Patient Have Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is often unrecognized and undiagnosed in the elderly. Medical conditions and some medications can disguise the symptoms. Symptoms may be either ignored or attributed to other causes.
Home health care professionals have an opportunity to observe individuals. As part of regular visits, you can discreetly question them about drinking. That can be part of your routine exams, or you can use specialized questionnaires.
Pegasus in-home caregiving professionals in Mount Washington and our other locations understand how alcohol consumption in the elderly affects their health. They know the potential benefits of moderate drinking and the consequences of heavy drinking. Career home health care nurses know how to help AUD patients obtain treatment when needed.