Aug 162016

July 2016

A Healthy Age

By Amy Abbott, Senior Wire News Service

Death of a spouse and loss of our longtime home or severe illness may lead to isolation or loneliness, which may up consumption. U.S. widowers over 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism. Lifestyle changes are difficult at any age.

The opioid epidemic is, no doubt, the health topic of the year, if not the century. The increased abuse of prescription drugs is a serious and devastating problem.

Another more familiar addiction demon wreaks havoc with families, and especially with seniors. That demon is alcohol. However, none of us wants a lecture about our socially acceptable drinking habits. We are all used to our evening cocktail, and no one bats an eye. We consider it a social ritual.

Moreover, we’re blasted with conflicting information. A little red wine is good for us. A little red wine is bad for us. Let’s hoist a jug of red wine, a rasher of bacon, and multiple, evil carbs and have a huge picnic in spite of all the data.

Hear me out. As seniors, there are other considerations. The UK Institute of Alcohol Studies and the U.S. National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) offered these caveats.

  • While older adults consume less alcohol than younger drinkers, seniors are more likely to drink daily.
  • Alcohol-related hospital admissions in the UK are rising among those age 65 and older. The NCADD notes six to 11 percent of U.S. hospital admissions result from alcohol or drug problems.
  • Death of a spouse and loss of our longtime home or severe illness may lead to isolation or loneliness, which may up consumption. U.S. widowers over 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism. Lifestyle changes are difficult at any age.
  • A traditional belief that liquor is medicinal – from the “hot toddy” school of thinking – may offer comfort.

We read these facts and shake our heads and move on. It is not us or anyone we know. It is the other guy. I was blissfully unaware until a job took me to many retirement centers. I learned that upon admission many patients ask if alcohol is allowed. Many skilled nursing facilities need a doctor’s order that states “Rodney may have two beers a day.”

Other retirement centers, with assisted or independent living, feature bars and evening cocktail hours. My dad’s facility has a bar aptly named “The Pub.”

However, I am making a point here. Every population group has a percentage of people who cannot handle alcohol. Upping our awareness may help us encourage a loved one to slow it down or stop drinking.

Who is at risk? The UK study identified three types of senior drinkers:

1. Survivors are lifelong drinkers. Studies tell us that survivors may have a life cut short 10 to 15 years by their heavy drinking. We all know individuals whose livers have gone kaput before their will to drink ended.

2. Reactors are people who did not start drinking until later in life. These individuals may have suffered significant loss, illness, and pain, or an unwanted retirement.

3. Binge drinkers may not use alcohol every day but drink to excess when overindulging.

The National Institute of Health explained that as we age the amount of water in our bodies decreases. When older adults imbibe alcohol, less water present means less dilution of alcohol.

This ups the blood alcohol content (BAC). Younger people can consume the same amount of alcohol and have a lower BAC. Reactors and binge-drinkers, according to the study, have the best opportunity to curb alcohol use with appropriate treatment.

What are the signs that may identify that drinking has become a problem in our loved one? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offered these warning signs: secretive drinking, drinking rituals, loss of interest in hobbies, ignoring warning labels on prescription drugs, slurred speech, change in appearance, chronic and unidentifiable health complaints, hostility or depression, and confusion or memory loss. A genuinely sad aspect is that these signs may be hidden among other aspects of aging. We become blind to what we do not want to recognize. We may toss off these symptoms to the usual process of growing older.

When we can identify these problems, treatment abounds. The good news is that there are multiple treatment and rehab programs, focusing on the specific physical and emotional needs of seniors. Addiction and support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, offer help in most areas specific to gender and population. Medicare plans pay for treatment (please check your specific policy documentation.)

Your loved one, of course, must consent to treatment. Now armed with reasons why lowered or no alcohol use may be best, the real battle is within the individual. Encouragement from family or friends may be a start.

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