This is Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week and a good time to call attention to the issue of senior alcohol abuse. If your loved one is drinking too much or too frequently you may not know it. Alcohol abuse among older people is often overlooked because the signs and symptoms of it are either hidden or misdiagnosed. They can also mimic the symptoms of other medical and behavioral conditions common among the senior population such as diabetes, dementia, and depression.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) says there are 2.5 million older adults who abuse alcohol or drugs, most of them because of unwanted and difficult changes in lifestyle. The NCADD says that when seniors turn to alcohol and drugs the majority of them do so because:
- Children have grown up, left home and now live too far away to visit regularly.
- Close friends have moved or died.
- It becomes necessary to move to a smaller home.
- A beloved partner becomes seriously ill or dies.
- The senior’s own physical health deteriorates.
- Finances shrink and limit activities and hobbies.
Seniors may turn to alcohol to soften the grief, pain, loneliness and loss of socialization associated with these changes. In fact, widowers over the age of 75 have the highest rate of alcoholism in the U.S.
The signs of alcoholism in older adults is different than in younger people. According to the NCADD some of them include:
- Solitary or secretive drinking.
- A ritual of drinking before, with, or after dinner.
- A loss of interest in hobbies or pleasurable activities.
- Drinking in spite of warning labels on prescription drugs.
- Immediate and frequent use of tranquilizers.
- Slurred speech, empty liquor and beer bottles, smell of alcohol on breath, change in personal appearance.
- Chronic and unsupported health complaints.
- Hostility or depression.
- Memory loss and confusion.
Alcohol and drug abuse is harmful at any age but especially for the elderly. The impact of alcohol related injuries is much more severe for those who may be frail or ill with chronic disease to begin with. Falls can result in broken bones and hospitalizations. The physical and mental effects of alcohol are more debilitating overall for seniors than for younger people. The statistics show the dramatic impact on seniors of alcohol abuse:
- Six to 11% of elderly hospital admissions are a result of alcohol or drug problems
- 14% of elderly emergency room admissions.
- 20% of elderly psychiatric hospital admissions.
- Nearly 50% of nursing home residents have alcohol related problems.
- Older adults are hospitalized as often for alcohol related problems as for heart attacks.
Is treatment available?
Once an alcohol problem is identified in a senior different types of treatment available. The challenge is addressing the issue with the senior and gaining their cooperation to participate in treatment. If you are the one who must address alcohol abuse with a loved one, approach the issue in an empathic, respectful manner. Discuss the enormous risks
they face and what can happen to them physically and mentally as a result of drinking too much alcohol. Some seniors may not be fully aware of the very real dangers of mixing alcohol with prescription drugs.
Once you have the senior’s agreement to participate in treatment, there are several options available to you:
- Discuss this with the senior’s physician and ask their advice for treatment.
- Consult the Alcoholic’s Anonymous website to find local chapter meetings.
- Find an addiction therapist to work with your loved one and move them toward rehabilitation.
Home Care Assistance caregivers are available to support you in these efforts. Each caregiver is trained in our proprietary Cognitive Therapeutics Method so that clients receive one-to-one mental stimulation as well as support with basic care and activities of daily living. The Cognitive Therapeutics Method not only improves our clients’ mental acuity, but also their overall engagement and happiness. This can help to reduce their reliance on alcohol for a better quality of life.