Alcoholism and the Elderly

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Introduction

Even though alcoholism in the elderly is not an unknown issue it often times goes undetected and therefore unaddressed (Levy, 1995). Since the elderly are more at risk for changes in cognitive abilities it is important to be able to detect an elderly person who is misusing alcohol so that they do not do damage to their already vulnerable body. “Alcoholics suffer from considerable brain damage and a decline in their intellectual abilities” (Verbaten, 2009). “Congress reported that 2.5 million older adults have alcohol problems and that 21% of hospitalized people age 60 and older have a diagnosis of alcoholism” (Rinfrette, 2009).

The recognition of alcohol misuse is of great importance. “Alcohol misuse in the elderly population is a marker for other problems” (Mathews & Oslin, 2009). The importance for a study of alcoholism and the elderly is to show the percentage that have alcohol problems, make the elderly more aware of the risk they are at due to cognitive abilities, and to show how it is a flag for other issues. “There is a need for screening and assessment of older adults…. to open an avenue for identifying other health concerns” (Mathews & Oslin, 2009). However, many factors attribute to the lack of and shortcoming of screening and recognition of this disorder in the elderly.

The issue of alcoholism in the elderly is very important relating to their physical and mental health. This paper will discuss the issue of proper screening and the importance of the recognition of this disorder in the elderly. This paper will also discuss why alcohol problems go undetected in the elderly and compare research findings in this topic.

With low to moderate alcohol consumption there are changes in the brain. Among these changes is brain shrinkage in grey matter and white matter volume, which are components of the central nervous system. This offers support for the belief that drinking alcohol decreases brain health. However, it was found that elderly light and moderate drinkers, less white matter damage was found than in abstainers (Verbaten, 2009). This study done by Verbaten concludes that there are negative effects on the brain from alcohol consumption. Verbaten does say that there might be an exception for light to moderate drinkers but he also says that the research is not yet conclusive.

Although Verbaten’s study says that there is less white matter damage in the elderly that role of light amounts of alcohol consume light amounts of alcohol, there are health risks related to alcohol consumption. Given the normal physiological changes with aging, the elderly are at risk for health-related problems associated with alcohol consumption such as liver or brain damage. Also, since a great number of elderly are on prescription medications and their metabolisms are slowed, they are at greater risk for drug-related interactions with the alcohol. (Montgomery, St. John, & Tyas, 2008) Blood pressure is another health concern for elderly alcohol drinkers. Since alcohol is a diuretic, it can lead to orthostatic hypotension. Orthostatic hypotension causes feelings of dizziness upon standing due to low blood pressure. On the other end, hypertension has been linked to regularly drinking three or more alcoholic beverages a day. (Rinfrette, 2009)

Alcohol misuse can also contribute to other problems in the elderly. Of these problems illicit drug use, tobacco use, and misuse of prescription medications are most prevalent. (Mathews & Oslin, 2009). Other problems associated with alcohol misuse include social and psychological complication. (Rinfrette, 2009). These complications could be due to social isolation and being looked down upon for alcohol misuse. Social isolation and societal unacceptance can lead to psychological issues within the alcoholic. “Seniors who misuse alcohol may be more likely to develop depression, either through a direct biologic effect of alcohol or through a breakdown in social...
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