Alcohol and the Elderly

by MichelleR on November 2, 2012

Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic? Absolutely not! There are plenty of people that become alcoholics and recover from it; then there are those who were not heavy drinkers in their younger years, but become alcoholics later in their life. Alcohol abuse is common, but it is definitely an epidemic that goes under the radar of the 65 and older population.
In 2002, Dr. L. Hays of the University of Kentucky reported that 2.5 million elderly adults and 21 percent of elderly hospital patients suffered from alcohol-related issues.
There is some speculation as to why elderly alcoholism is often overlooked or ignored. One of the main theories is that the elderly are less and less active in their communities and therefore, there is no one around to notice. Another reason elderly alcoholism is not noticed or underreported is because they are less likely to be in trouble with the law. If there are no incidents that involve the police, there are little to no statistics to analyze and therefore, it is difficult to develop treatment and awareness programs. A lack of detection poses a growing problem.
 Why do the elderly turn to alcohol? Every person and situation is different, but there are certain triggers that are common with aging: loneliness, grief, retirement, boredom, anxiety, and mental health problems. These triggers tend to cause depression and embarrassment. Some may think that alcohol is the only thing that eases these feelings and they become dependent on it, sort of like a friend, one he can count on- the friends that he misses in his life. One article states, “As the Baby Boomer generation moves toward senior citizen status, carrying with it habits and patterns of behavior developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the situation could develop into a healthcare crisis.” People who start drinking late in life are at great risk of social isolation and physical health problems.
 So, how to look for signs of alcoholism in the elderly? Well, it can actually be a little tricky for both the family and Doctors. Many of the signs are also signs of natural aging, such as disorientation, frequent falls, depression, forgetfulness/Dementia, slurred speech, malnutrition, confusion, and a decline in hygiene. Signs that are more defining of an alcohol problem are: drinking alone, increase in alcohol consumption, smelling alcohol on their breath frequently, and defensiveness when questioned about drinking.
Look for these signs in your senior loved ones as the holidays approach. If you have questions or need support try calling The Alcohol & Drug Addiction Resource Center 1 800 390 4056

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