Alcohol and the Elderly

Older people are more prone to adverse effects because they are more strongly affected by alcohol than younger people. This is because of changes in the way the body processes alcohol as a person ages.

Older people may also be affected more strongly by other drugs, both prescription and non-prescription. They are more prone to complications with medication, and are particularly at risk of an adverse interaction between medication and alcohol.

Although older people are vulnerable to alcohol problems, they may also find it difficult to ask for, and get, help.

As you grow older, you may well continue drinking habits developed over years, without realising that the effect that alcohol has on your body becomes stronger and more prolonged with age. Accidents, loss of memory, confusion and shaking limbs – which are often written off as ‘old age’ – may be signs of a drink-problem. This can happen even when you are drinking the same amount of alcohol as you always have. Alternatively, problems may lead you to drink to relieve stress. In either case, you risk harming your health.

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Drinking too much alcohol has specific health implications for older people …

  • Drinking can cause stomach upsets, which can lead to sickness and indigestion.
  • The liver becomes less efficient at breaking down alcohol as you age. This is an important reason why older people should cut down their alcohol intake.
  • While a drink makes a body feel warm, it actually speeds up the loss of body-heat and may increase the risk of hypothermia.
  • A healthy diet is a particularly important way for you to maintain your good health. Alcohol affects appetite and digestion, and someone who drinks too much may not be eating properly. Extra vitamins and proteins may be needed.
  • Your risk of having an accident, such as falling over, is always higher after a drink.
  • Alcohol is a diuretic, making you need to urinate more frequently, and dehydration may result.
  • Alcohol may send you to sleep, but it will also upset your natural sleep-pattern.
  • Excessive drinking can cause diseases of the liver, heart, stomach, chest, kidneys and throat. Cutting down on alcohol consumption will help you avoid these and other problems.
  • Special warning about medications
    Perhaps the greatest danger comes from mixing alcohol with prescribed drugs. In many cases, alcohol makes the effect of medicines stronger, or causes side-effects such as headaches, upset stomach or flushes. Unless the doctor has said it is safe, alcohol and medicines should never be mixed

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