Alcohol & Older PeopleFor many older people, there is little risk in drinking a little alcohol. However, there are reasons why older people should be particularly careful with alcohol.
As we get older, most of us start to drink less than we used to. Some of us may decide not to drink at all. In late middle age and older, growing ill health is another reason why we might cut down or stop drinking. On the other hand, in later life some of us may continue to drink much as we have done for years. Others may drink even more than before.
It’s important to remember, however, that our ability to drink alcohol diminishes in later life.
Alcohol and Ageing report - the views of older women and carers
Here are some reasons why an older person might rely on alcohol:
- Drinking heavily for many years already
- Feeling bored, perhaps because of retirement or loss of previous family responsibilities
- Feeling lonely or depressed, due to retirement or death of a loved one
- Suffering pain or discomfort, due to conditions such as arthritis
- Less able to get out and about, or fear of going out alone
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Trying to keep warm or to reduce heating bills
- Finding it easier than preparing meals - although it doesn’t have any food value, alcohol is a source of calories and also reduces appetite.
What are the risks for an older person who drinks?
- As we get older, our bodies have a larger proportion of fat to water. This means that the effects of alcohol are increased because it is more concentrated in the body.
- Also, the rate at which alcohol is broken down in the body is slowed down. This causes alcohol to circulate for longer, so the effects last longer.
- As we grow older, the liver becomes more easily damaged by alcohol.
- Some older people suffer difficulties with their memory, balance or co-ordination. These can become worse when they drink alcohol. This can lead to hazards such as leaving the gas on, forgetting to lock the door, or having a fall.
- We may forget to eat properly or look after our health if we drink too much or too often. Drinking heavily plus not eating well can lead to permanent and severe memory loss.
- A lonely or isolated person may spend long periods drinking alone in the home.
- Drinking too much can lead to urinary incontinence.
- Drinking alcohol actually leads to heat loss in the body, increasing the risk of hypothermia when a lot of alcohol is consumed.
- Drinking a lot costs money and can lead to financial difficulties.
- People who take medicines have to be particularly careful as alcohol can seriously interfere with their effects. In particular, sedatives, tranquilisers, sleeping pills, painkillers and cold cures can be dangerous when taken with alcohol. Before drinking alcohol, always check first with your doctor or pharmacist.
What can I do?Many older people are unaware of the fact that there are recommended limits for drinking. Bear in mind that these are maximum amounts for fit and healthy individuals and older people should aim to drink less than this.
Try to change your daily routines to help you avoid drinking situations. It can be helpful to take part in activities which don’t involve alcohol.
- Spend more time with people who don’t drink or drink very little - meet friends or join a club of some sort.
- Take up a new hobby or interest.
- If you’ve been drinking to help you with any of the difficulties mentioned above, speak to your doctor for advice on how to cope.
- Try having a warm drink, rather than an alcoholic one, to help you sleep.
- Avoid alcohol if you’re ill or feeling cold.
- If you do feel that you may have an alcohol problem, you should seek help from your GP.