The Effects of Alcohol On Older Adults

shot of whiskey photo
It’s not uncommon for older adults to occasionally enjoy a glass of wine, a shot of whiskey, or a glass of brandy by the fire.  Some retirement communities have daily happy hours, where the elderly residents can gather, socialize, and have fun.  But because of the increased effect that alcohol has on the elderly, older adults should be very careful to limit or eliminate alcohol altogether.Because older adults metabolize alcohol slower than younger people, they become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects.  Because of this, the same amount of alcohol can have a greater effect on an older person than on someone who is younger.  An older adult can develop problems with alcohol, even though their drinking habits have not changed.Below is a list of just some of the dangerous effects that alcohol can have on a senior citizen:

  1. If a senior has a medical condition that effects his or her balance, coordination, and/or trouble walking, alcohol can increase loss of balance and cause instability, leading to falls and possible serious injury.
  2. Some medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and liver disorders can worsen with alcohol use.
  3. Alcohol can worsen memory problems and any cognitive deficits that an elderly person may have.  Even a small amount of alcohol for an older adult can impair judgment and reaction time.
  4. There are many medications that should not be mixed with alcohol, due to serious or even deadly side effects.  This is especially worrisome, since the average person over the age of 65 takes at least two medications a day.
  5. Even mixing alcohol with non-prescription drugs can be dangerous.  Aspirin can can cause bleeding in the stomach, and the risk of bleeding is increased when mixed with alcohol.
  6. Alcohol mixed with the pain medication acetaminophen raises the risk of serious liver damage.
  7. Drinking alcohol and taking medications that aid in sleep, relieve anxiety or depression, or relieve pain can cause excessive sleepiness, difficulty breathing, and rapid heart beat.

Older adults, or their caregivers, should always read the labels and inserts on all medications, and be sure to follow the directions.  If in doubt, ask a doctor or pharmacist whether it is okay to drink alcohol while taking certain medications.

Photo by IntangibleArts