While alcohol has served as a popular social lubricant and means to relax for countless generations, many of us have had some experience of the ease with which drinking – either socially or at home, can run away with us somewhat!
What we may not have considered is that a relaxed attitude to the potential pitfalls of consuming too much alcohol can leave our elderly loved ones vulnerable to a host of health problems. A balanced relationship with alcohol is not necessarily anything to worry about, but missing pointers to something more damaging is worth avoiding with a mindful approach.
The changes that our loved ones may experience in later life can serve to mask warning signs that there may be cause for concern, while simultaneously leaving them more vulnerable to the negative effects of alcohol on the body. For these important reasons, educating ourselves on the risks of excessive drinking in later life, and awareness of what to keep an eye out for, will help us ensure that any potentially risky drinking habits are promptly and carefully addressed.
What Goes Unseen
Alcohol is the third biggest lifestyle risk factor for death and disease in the UK, after smoking and obesity, and yet, at times, misuse of alcohol by our elders can be incredibly hard to spot. In some cases, our loved ones may have always enjoyed social drinking, but their habit might have increased, or their tolerance decreased as time has passed by.
In other cases, challenges that can be associated with ageing such as depression, loneliness or boredom can lead to alcohol abuse as a means of self-medication. For those experiencing the discomfort of age-related illness or pain, alcohol can serve as a tempting, although ultimately unhelpful, way of dealing with difficult emotions or experiences. Those who have gone through major changes such as bereavement or ailing health may be particularly at risk.
Missing the Signs
Noticing that an elderly loved one is experiencing confusion or forgetfulness might lead us to worry about the onset of dementia or side effects related to a new medication, but it is wise to acknowledge that alcohol can also create these symptoms. If we see an elderly individual lose their balance, we might not equate this with over-consumption of alcohol. In this way, signs that excessive drinking may be having a negative impact on those we care about can easily be missed.
With care and compassion, remaining attuned to any indication that our loved one might be hiding a drinking habit can allow us to notice when support may be required, not only in managing alcohol consumption but through awareness of what underlying triggers may be fuelling an unhealthy shift in alcohol intake.
How Alcohol Tolerance Changes With Age
At different stages of life, our body’s ability to process alcohol can change quite dramatically. It is common for tolerance to decline with age, which means that the enjoyable wine that our loved ones may have considered an absolutely acceptable volume some years ago, may now leave them feeling inebriated. This increased vulnerability can contribute to accidents such as falls, or road accidents. It can be a touchy subject to address, but the fact is that alcohol packs a greater punch as our years advance.
The Impact Of Excessive Drinking
While drinking too much unavoidably has a negative impact on our health at any age, the body becomes more susceptible to damage as we get older, and so ignoring unhealthy habits can have more serious consequences. Alcohol abuse is attributed with causing or exacerbating the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- Risk of stroke
- Liver damage
- High blood pressure
- Brain damage
- Immune system disorders
- Stomach ulcers
- Tooth decay
- Weight gain
Beyond the directly negative impacts of excessive drinking, it is important to note that the inevitable dehydration that goes with too much tipple will prevent the body from functioning as it should, leaving our loved ones feeling unwell both emotionally and physically. Thankfully, a change of habit can have a powerful impact on reducing the risk of serious health issues for the ones we care about.
Recognising When There’s A Problem
If you notice that your elderly loved one may be hiding the amount that they drink, or feel that alcohol might be having a negative impact on their well-being, keep a watchful eye and consider what might be the best path towards constructively addressing this with them.
Depending on the situation and the nature of your relationship, you might feel comfortable talking to your loved one directly, consulting with a friend or relative, or seeking support from a health care professional. There are a host of options available for those who would benefit from alcohol-related support, such as trained councillors with an in-depth understanding of alcohol problems in older people, or local support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The first step is reaching out to discover what resources are on hand to help your loved one in a way that will offer them the best possible support.