Addressing Alcoholism in an Ageing Population
Alcoholism Risk by Dr. Gerard M. DiLeo, MD, CLCP:
By the year 2050, it is projected that the aging population of people over 60 will more than double, to over 2 billion worldwide, rising to 22% of the global population. We are living in a time where access to healthcare continually improves and medical science expands—now doubling every 73 days (as opposed to every 50 years in 1950). Simply, as lifespan increases and science progresses, people are living longer. Yet, while this “fountain of youth” has blessed many seniors with more years, it has also magnified the risks that all persons, regardless of age, experience. Alcoholism is one of these risks.
Increased Age Makes for Increased Danger
In a study it was found that 50% of adults over 65 consume alcohol. Of these, one of seven drink more than the recommended weekly allowance of 1 drink per day. We are all designed to age—our bodies, our organs, even our very cells. In spite of the increase in life expectancy, alcohol exposure may not be met with the same resistance to damage that we were able to muster when younger. Alcohol abuse, targeting specifically the liver, kidneys, brain, and immune system, may accelerate this aging (that is, dysfunction) of organs. Not only does damage occur faster, but it is further aggravated by the accumulation of total alcohol history over time; and the longer one lives, the more alcohol history can build up.
Thus, a faster aging of organs due to alcohol abuse can increase other secondary dangers, such as depression, dementia, falls, and infections, any of which can become life-threatening. One example is the added decline in response-time alcohol adds to driving, additive to the already-decreased response time for elderly drivers.
Withdrawal, a life-threatening challenge even to younger people, will see the elderly have less resilience and less of a chance of surviving it.
Increased Age Increases the Risk Factors for Alcoholism
The risk factors for alcoholism in the elderly are more common in younger persons:
- Depression from the inevitable solitude and isolation that comes with less mobility, decreasing social involvement, and transportation issues.
- Anxiety as one moves from a life of capability to one of incapacity.
- Pain from aging problems, such as arthritis.
- Disability that can increase as one gets older.
- Helplessness (physically, socially, or financially) to improve one’s quality of life.
- Bereavement over the loss of loved ones.
Alcohol has traditionally been the “tonic” for these classical risk factors, often increasing alcohol abuse due to this “go-to” remedy which increases in proportion to how persons may perceive these unwelcome developments.
How Does One Know He or She Is at Risk for Alcohol Abuse?
The American Geriatrics Society has been instrumental in developing simple ways to judge whether alcohol consumption is becoming a problem. A concerned love one can use them but, even better, one can ask him- or herself these “CAGE” questions:
- Have you or others ever felt that you should Cut down on your drinking?
- Have you become Annoyed by people complaining about how much you drink or how you act after drinking?
- Have you ever felt Guilt, regret, or simply bad about how much you drink, what you did, how you acted, or how you treated others while drinking?
- Do you need a drink as an “Eye-opener” first thing each morning, to prepare you for your day, calm your nerves, or even “treat” a hangover?
Do You Pass or Flunk This Simple Test?
If one answers YES to any one of these questions, there is a problem, and because of age, it is a worse problem than in younger persons. It indicates that help is not only indicated, but probably an emergency. Thankfully, help is readily available.