Alcoholism Among Elderly

Elderly alcoholism is a hidden health problem
Elderly alcoholism is a hidden health problem (Image: Pixabay)

There is a rising problem of alcoholism among the elderly. Recent studies show that the over-65s in Britain and elsewhere drink more heavily than previous generations of seniors.

Alcoholism is associated with many medical, social and economic problems. Older people who drink heavily also subject themselves to fall injuries, dementia, liver disease, heart disease and brain damage.

The Facts

UK national guidelines advise no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for women and 21 units a week for men. But a study on the drinking habits of people over 65 in an inner-city population in London found that 1 in 5 people drank more than the recommended limits. Among the 5% heavy drinkers, men consumed more than 49 units a week, while women spent 23 units a week. Independently, data obtained by Health Survey for England 2015 revealed fairly similar alcohol consumption figures among older people.

Elderly who drink excessively put themselves at risk of falls and fall injuries as well as many other medical conditions such as dementia, brain damage and liver disease. In the past decade, more aged 65+ have been hospitalized with alcohol-related problems, which greatly pressures the National Health Service.

The problem is not unique to Britain. Data from Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services shows that 2,266 senior citizens died from alcohol-related falls between 2010 and 2016, and the trend is rising. A recent article published in The Cap Times (August 30, 2017) revealed that Wisconsin’s elderly death rate from falls is twice the national average in the US. Some experts link the problem to rising binge drinking rates among elderly residents.

A Hidden and Dangerous Problem

The Elderly’s misuse of alcohol is often overlooked. Many doctors are unaware their patients have drinking problems. The Royal College of Physicians estimated up to 60% of older people admitted to the hospital because of confusion, repeated falls at home, recurrent chest infections and heart failure may have unrecognized alcohol problems.

The problem is hidden because the elderly usually drink at home and only take a small amount at a time. It is very reasonable that Aunty Daisy needs a sip of whiskey to calm her nerves. However, the harm develops when she drinks often and every day.

Seniors with alcohol problems generally fall into two groups: those who have abused alcohol since their younger days and those who started drinking later in life.

Loneliness could lead to alcohol misuse
Loneliness could lead to alcohol misuse (Image courtesy of Pixabay)

Why do they take to drinks? Boredom from retirement, loneliness, loss of mobility, loss of a partner, inability to cope with old age and death, and bereavement are all possible causes.

Due to slower metabolism, older people are less able to handle alcohol than younger drinkers. In addition, most elderly have been prescribed medications for treating insomnia, depression, and various cardiovascular problems. Drinking alcohol on top of these medications can result in blur vision, disorientation, and loss of balance, and therefore more likelihood of falling and sustaining injuries which may be fatal.

The strain on the healthcare system is predictable with the ageing population if action is not taken to tackle the problem.

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