Last week, we discussed the rising problem of prescription drug abuse among the elderly population. This week, we will focus on another drug that is also seeing a rise in its abuse among seniors: alcohol.
According to the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, 10 percent of the U.S. population is believed to abuse alcohol. But among people 65 and over, recent surveys have revealed that the number could be as high as 17 percent. The NYOASAS divides elderly abusers into two categories: 1) Hardy Survivors, who have abused alcohol for years; and 2) Late Onsetters, who may have begun their abusive behavior in order to try to cope with a loss, such as that of a spouse, pet, friend, or longtime residence. This group may also use alcohol as a pain dampener in combat of other health issues such as arthritis or depression. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation says that while men are more likely to be Hardy Survivors, women make up most of the Late Onset group.
Both groups are known to mix their alcohol with over-the-counter medications, which can be dangerous. The National Institute on Aging states that when alcohol is taken with aspirin, stomach or intestinal bleeding could occur. With cold and allergy medications, it can make one feel very sleepy. And when used with larger doses of acetaminophen, it can cause liver damage. It is not advised to drink alcohol with anti-anxiety/depression medicine, as this can lead to death.
As the human body ages, its tolerance of alcohol decreases. The NIA recommends that healthy people 65 and older consume no more than seven “drinks” (meaning: 12 oz. of beer, ale, or wine cooler; 8 oz. of malt liquor; 5 oz. of wine; or 1.5 oz. shot of spirits – 80 proof or less) per week. If there are health issues or if certain medications are being taken on a regular basis, the NIA suggests not to drink at all. Consult with your loved one’s physician to determine the best route to take.
What to do if abuse is present
Many times, the symptoms of alcohol abuse in seniors tend to be overlooked, due to the assumption that things such as decreased balance, forgetfulness, confusion or slower speech are simply signs of aging. For this reason, it is important to be aware of your elderly parent’s lifestyle and behaviors and know what to look for.
Research the many symptoms of alcohol abuse. If you suspect there is a problem, first try to talk to your loved one to get their take on things. He/she may be drinking exactly the same amount of alcohol they have been drinking for years, having no idea that it affects them differently and more acutely at over-65 than it did at 25.
Seek counseling for your parent. Having a trusted person at her side during the healing process can be a great catalyst toward recovery. And, there is very good news here: Hazelden Betty Ford reports that older people have the highest alcoholism recovery rate of all groups.
Know the “triggers” and develop lifestyle updates with your parent to eliminate them. If she tends to drink when she is alone during certain hours, try to ensure that during those times, she is surrounded by others or engaged in activities that are not conducive to the abusive behavior.
When enjoyment becomes abuse, the road to health can be difficult. But there is much help available for you and your elderly loved one. Do not be afraid to ask for it. Their life is worth it, and so is yours.
There is so much to think about when entering the later stages of life. If you are considering elder care options, we at 805Aging can help. Our professional staff specializes in assisting you to choose the right kind of care for your loved one.
We conduct regular check-ins when you are unable to do so. 805Aging also provides oversight and detailed feedback to the family to keep your loved one safe and well-cared for day or night, weekday or weekend, holiday and every day.
We have the resources. We can hold your hand. We can guide you. Your peace of mind is our main goal, and is well assured. To find out more, call us at 805-750-4755 or visit our website and sign up for our monthly newsletter: www.805Aging.com.
There is no manual on how to take care of your parents as they age. They had a baby book when you were young. You have us. -Amy