Some people whose drinking habits do not change over the years and decades may find that they develop problems with alcohol when they get older – aging lowers the body’s tolerance for alcohol. A drink now and again as one ages will not usually cause any harm. However, alcohol can become a problem for older adults, especially if they are taking certain prescription medications, have health conditions, or do not control their alcohol intake.

NIH Senior Health, USA has issued a guideline, called Alcohol Use and Older Adults. It has helpful information about alcohol’s effect and impact on the lifestyle, health and bodies of an ageing human.

Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., acting director of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which developed the topic, said:

Older adults can experience the effects of alcohol, such as slurred speech and lack of coordination, more quickly than when they were younger. If you’re older and you drink, it is important to understand the implications this may have for your health, safety, relationships and lifestyle. The newest topic on NIHSeniorHealth provides an excellent overview of these issues in a format that is tailored for older adults.

The report also explains how much is safe to drink for the majority of older men and women. It also includes precautions people should take if they are on certain medications, as well as how to get help if drinking has become a problem.

NIH Senior Health writes that a growing number of American seniors are using the internet for health information. Over 70% of seniors are seeking out health and medical information when they go online.

The report, which NIH says is based on the latest research on aging and cognition, features short, easy-to-read segments of information that can be accessed in a number of formats, including various large-print type sizes, open-captioned videos and an audio version. Additional topics coming soon to the site include long-term care, anxiety disorders and peripheral arterial disease.

The 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that approximately 40% of Americans aged 65 or more consume alcohol. The majority of them do not have a drinking problem. However, a proportion do drink too much. An individual may have a drinking problem but is unaware of it. Problems with alcohol among elderly people are more common among males than females.

When the human body ages it breaks down (metabolizes) alcohol more slowly than it did when it was younger, resulting in higher sensitivity to the effects of alcohol. Alcohol stays in a senior’s body much longer, compared to a younger person’s body.

A male senior who weighs 150 pounds and drinks 1 glass of wine will have a higher percentage of alcohol in his blood than a 25-year-old male who also weighs 150 pounds and drinks the same amount of wine. The same comparison can be applied to females. One of the reasons for this is that the amount of water in our bodies drops as we age.

As older people are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than younger people, they also have a higher risk of having alcohol problems, even if they have not increased their regular alcohol intake compared to 15 years ago.

Consuming alcohol can make certain health problems worse, especially conditions which are more common as we get older. Examples include, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), congestive heart failure, and liver problems.

The NIH Senior Health’s guidelines say:

In general, healthy men and women over age 65 should not drink more than three drinks a day or a total of seven drinks a week. Drinking more than these amounts puts people at risk of serious alcohol problems. However, people can still have problems within these limits. Depending on their health and how alcohol affects them, older adults may need to drink less than these limits or not at all.

Link: “Alcohol Use and Older Adults”

Source: National Institutes of Health, NIH Senior Health

Written by Christian Nordqvist