There is a common misconception that most older people who show signs of confusion, depression and other “mental” disorders suffer from the disease of Alzheimer’s, which is a progressive and ultimately fatal disease.
The disease of alcoholism is also a progressive and ultimately fatal disease; but unlike Alzheimer’s, it can be arrested with some of the effects reversed if drinking is stopped in time. Unfortunately, many older drinkers have experienced significant damage by the time something has been done about their alcohol abuse—a condition often diagnosed as alcoholic dementia. Nevertheless, the disease of alcoholism can be arrested with no further progression if the older person stops drinking. With a good diet and other life changes, a person can show remarkably positive changes within a relatively short period of time. To adopt an attitude or approach that someone is 70, 75, 80, 85, or greater and should therefore be left alone to enjoy their remaining years in peace is naïve at best, and abusive at worst. Alcoholism is not a pretty disease, and the physical damage can result in a painful and lingering death for anyone. Why would anyone want to condone that process?
There are treatment facilities and self-help groups which specifically address the addiction needs and treatment options for older adults, and the national institute on aging as well as the national council on alcoholism can offer a list of excellent resources. According to the national institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism, people who are healthy and over age 65 should have no more than 7 drinks a week and no more than 3 drinks on any one day.
One drink is equal to one of the following:
- One 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer, ale, or wine cooler
- One 8- or 9-ounce can or bottle of malt liquor
- One 5-ounce glass of red or white wine
- One 1.5-ounce shot glass of hard liquor (spirits) like gin, vodka, or whiskey. The label on the bottle will say 80 proof or less.
Drinking alcohol and taking prescription medications could be a bad combination. In addition, a senior that has too much to drink could fall and get critically injured. If you have a loved one who consumes more than the guidelines above please let them know you are concerned and please meet with their doctor to develop a treatment plan.