How Alcohol Affects the Aging Mind

By April 25, 2016Archives
Elderly woman lying awake in nursing home bed

Alcoholism is always destructive and that is especially true for seniors. The behavioral and physical effects of alcoholism ruin lives of all ages, but for the elderly, the mental impact of alcoholism can be the worst ruination of all. A new study shows that elderly people who are heavy drinkers are more likely to suffer memory and cognitive problems than mild-to-moderate drinkers.

Researchers have found that among those aged 60 and older, women seemed to be especially susceptible to mental decline from heavy alcohol use. This highlights yet another issue that is not frequently discussed in the context of seniors. People seem to think it is “cute” when an older person wants to drink a lot. In fact, society successfully ignores the fact that seniors can get drunk- it’s never discussed, nor is it reflected in the media, television or movies.

Alcoholism in seniors indicates that people continue to drink along the length of their lifespan. It points to the theory that heavy drinkers do not stop when faced with health issues, either from alcoholism, or aging. It provides some insight to consider that those seniors who are 65 or older lived through the “free love, drugs, rock n’ roll” years of the 1960s. They may have never abandoned the substance abuse habits adopted during those years. However, this study points out the need to study alcoholism in the elderly in order to improve diagnosis and treatment.

Perhaps the most troubling part of the study is that alcoholism can increase cognitive decline and decrease memory for those who may be experiencing that as a natural baseline. For seniors who may be prone to dementia and the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, heavy use of alcoholism is going to hasten onset of the disease. For all intensive purposes alcoholism can be treated and prevented. It is not like heart disease or cancer that is an internal condition that must be battled. It is an external disease that can be prevented, when diagnosed.

This study points to the need for elder caregivers, clinicians and other professionals to keep an eye open to possible alcohol abuse by the seniors in their care. When observed, heavy drinking must be addressed head on, in the best interests of the senior.

LivHOME professionals help families cope with these difficult issues. Our professional caregivers and care managers have a wealth of information and resources to offer families. LivHOME professionals can help families intervene in the home or can suggest the best options available. Together, we can help to address alcoholism in seniors in ways that will lead to successful treatment and a longer and healthier life.

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