A recent report from The Royal College of Psychiatrists of London detailed the problems of unrecognized alcohol misuse among the elderly and the importance of identifying and treating seniors misusing alcohol and drugs. Following the report’s release, experts from the Boston University Medical Center offered additional information to present a more comprehensive overview about alcohol intake by the elderly. They point out that in general very elderly people, especially those with chronic diseases, lower muscle mass or a poor diet for instance, may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, however they add, in moderation, drinking has benefits that shouldn’t be ignored.
One of the problems in the British report is the recommendation of “sensible limits” for drinking among people over 65 in comparison with younger people. The BU team explains that the International Forum on Alcohol Research scientific reviewers pointed out how difficult it is to come up with guidelines geared only to age since in the over 65 group individuals can vary from marathon runners to very sick, frail people.
It’s important to keep in mind the benefits of moderate drinking. It can play an important role in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, diabetes, dementia and osteoporosis. Say the experts at BU, advising healthy people aged 65 years or older who are moderate, responsible drinkers to stop drinking or to markedly reduce their intake would not be in their best health interests, especially in terms of their risk of cardiovascular diseases. Because the risk for cardiovascular diseases notably increases with age, the beneficial or protective effect of light to moderate drinking on cardiovascular diseases is actually greater in the elderly than in younger people.
There is also growing evidence that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia is lower among moderate drinkers than among abstainers—these neurodegenerative disorders are key causes of disability and death among elderly people. Regular dietary intake of flavonoid-rich foods and/or beverages (like red wine) has been associated with a 50 percent reduction in the risk of dementia, a preservation of cognitive performance, a delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and a reduction in the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
On a day to day level, some scientific data shows that quality of life is better and total mortality is lower among moderate drinkers than among abstainers—one study demonstrated that regular moderate alcohol consumption increases life span and quality of life for men up to 80 years of age and for women indefinitely.
In another study of almost 25,000 Americans over age 65, those was said they had between 8 and 14 drinks a week did not differ significantly in their characteristics from drinkers consuming 1 to 7 drinks a week, though it’s important to note that heavier drinkers and binge drinkers did not do as well.
The BU statement concluded that since the absolute effects of moderate drinking on cardiovascular disease are much greater in older people than in younger adults, the current limitations on alcohol intake for the elderly may not be appropriate and attempting to persuade elderly people who currently drink moderately, especially healthy moderate and responsible drinkers, to decrease their current intake may not be advisable or in their best health interests.
If you or a loved one are concerned about the amount of alcohol being consumed, keep a record of daily intake over the course of two weeks and talk to your doctor about the totals and about your quality of life and outlook—moderate drinking can be protective, but if the drinking is heavy and could be masking depression or feelings of isolation, those issues need to be addressed.