In this country, we often spend so much time worrying about teenagers and alcohol (and rightly so) that we often overlook a segment of the population that has legal access to beer, wine and spirits, but may have just as much trouble managing drinking responsibly: senior citizens.
We all know stories about the grandfather who might occasionally have one too many, the widow who never drank but now needs a nightcap to fall asleep, or the uncle nobody wants to be around during the holidays because of his abuse of booze.
Even though seniors may have plenty of experience with alcohol, it’s important to remember that as we get older, our bodies change, which ushers in alterations in appetite, energy levels, metabolism and a host of other physiological issues, including tolerance for alcohol.
The National Institute on Aging reports that prolonged alcohol use can lead to some forms of cancer, liver damage and immune system disorders; can worsen health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes and blood pressure; and can make other medical issues harder for doctors to discover and diagnose.
There’s also the issue of drinking alcohol in combination with prescribed or over-the-counter medications, which can have disastrous results even in tiny quantities. Before taking any medication, ask your personal physician if you can safely consume alcohol. It’s likely that many seniors will stop drinking if they know it could react negatively with their medicine.
And for those who don’t face alcohol-medication challenges, how much is too much? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that people over the age of 65 have no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three drinks on any one day. Obviously, the effect of alcohol consumption differs with every person. For some, that drink total may seem excessive, while others might see it as cutting back.
Approaching a family member about drinking alcohol can be touchy, an invasion of privacy, if you will. But consider that now may be a good time for all of us to do an inventory on the positives and negatives of our drinking habits, and if there’s someone – at any age – you think may be headed for trouble, counsel them as best you can. Above all share the message you do it out of love.