Alcohol Consumption in the Elderly
When caring for an elder loved one, some conversations are unpleasant but necessary. One of those conversations is often about alcohol consumption.
To be clear right off the bat: this isn’t about alcoholism or addiction. Those are distinct conditions, which have to be addressed on their own.
What we’re talking about here is ‘casual’ or ‘social’ drinking. A beer in the afternoon. A couple of glasses of wine at dinner. A cocktail with their friends. The sorts of activities an older person may have engaged in regularly for most of their lives. But the body of a 70-year-old is not the body of a 25-year-old or a 40-year-old. Metabolisms change, organs and systems don’t heal up as quickly as they used to, and ‘minor’ impairments are more likely to lead to significant injuries. But this doesn’t mean your senior loved one needs to become a teetotaler.
This is one of the core messages you should convey: no one is taking away all of your drinks. Simply telling an elder loved one “you can’t drink anymore” is a fast way to ensure they drink more often and more irresponsibly, going forward.
Try to schedule alcohol consumption in advance. Much the same way, dieting goes better when you have regular “cheat days” to look forward to, and a moderated alcohol intake regimen also works better when there are clear and frequent breaks. Bloody Marys at Mother’s Day brunch? A bit of the bubbly at their daughter’s birthday party? Those are great, so long as it’s not an everyday occurrence.
Family members should also try – whenever possible – to make sure alcohol consumption is done in conjunction with meals and nonalcoholic beverages. Mix in some juice or iced tea in between drinks. One of the biggest dangers of alcohol consumption comes from dehydration, and the elderly are more susceptible than most to that complication. Slowing the absorption of alcohol by eating while you drink, and consuming nonalcoholic drinks will help stave off dehydration.
Some studies show that moderate, regular alcohol consumption can have medical benefits, including improved bone density and better overall cardiovascular health. But those benefits are obliterated once the drinking moves to “excessive” levels. As a caregiver, part of your role is to find ways to allow your elder loved one to have the occasional drink while preventing overconsumption. It’s not an easy task, but a necessary one.
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