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Alcohol Consumption: With Age, Increased Health Risks

Alcohol Consumption With Age, Increased Health Risks

Getting older makes you more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Alcohol consumption, even when considered moderate, can have serious consequences for the health of the elderly. Decreasing alcohol consumption can improve quality of life.

Lower tolerance to alcohol as you age

Getting older makes you more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. After 65 years, the consequences of alcohol consumption, even when considered moderate, can be harmful to health.

Indeed, as we age, the body tolerates alcohol less well. For the same amount of alcohol ingested, the blood alcohol level will be higher and the alcohol level in the blood will drop more slowly. Some elderly people are therefore surprised to present a state of intoxication after consuming a quantity of alcohol that they used to consume without problem when they were younger.

After 65 years, it is recommended for:

  • Daily consumers, not to exceed one drink per day and to try to have days in the week without drinking.
  • Occasional consumers, not to exceed 2 drinks per occasion, to have at least 2 days without drinking during the week, and not to exceed 7 drinks per week.

These recommendations were drawn up based on the opinions and recommendations of the French Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology, the French Society of Alcoholics, Public Health France, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the United States.

Alcohol and Drugs: a Harmful Interaction

Many elderly people suffer from several pathologies and consume several medicines daily.

However, there are interactions between alcohol and drugs. Alcohol can decrease the effectiveness of medications or increase their side effects. For example, older people who take medication daily are recommended to talk to their doctor about their alcohol consumption. The latter will assess the risks of interaction.

Alcohol consumption: What Consequences?

In the elderly, alcohol consumption can promote:

  • The falls and their complications,
  • the cognitive,
  • the behavioral,
  • the occurrence of mental confusion.

It is often difficult to attribute the occurrence of these pathologies to alcohol, but it should be kept in mind that alcohol is one of the causes that can explain these symptoms.

Therefore, it is important to regularly take stock of your alcohol consumption with a healthcare professional.

How to Act?

With age, the average alcohol consumption per individual decreases. On the other hand, the frequency of regular consumption increases, most of the consumption occurring during meals. It is therefore essential to make the elderly themselves, as well as those around them (caregivers, family circle) aware of the risks associated with alcohol consumption.

Numerous social representations hinder a systematic identification of the risks associated with the use of alcohol in the elderly:

a tendency to trivialize higher alcohol consumption, both among the elderly themselves and among caregivers.

the mistaken belief that it is too late to act.

the mistaken belief that alcohol can have beneficial effects on cognitive status and cardiovascular health.

Stopping or reducing alcohol consumption has benefits at all ages, including the elderly:

improvement of the quality of life,

preservation of autonomy,

better cognitive performance,

improved mood and anxiety…

Improving the quality of life is an essential issue. Thus, the life expectancy at age 65 for women is 23.2 years, but the life expectancy with no perceived limitation in activities of daily living is only 11.2 years. For men, life expectancy at age 65 is 19.4 years, but life expectancy with no perceived limitation in activities of daily living is only 10.1 years (source: Key figures from the autonomy aid 2019, CNSA).

What to Do in Case of Excessive Alcohol Consumption?

Breaks and losses linked to advancing age (retirement, widowhood, isolation, etc.) may be associated with an increase in alcohol consumption. In older people who consume alcohol excessively, this phenomenon is old in two-thirds of cases. In a third of cases, this excessive consumption began after 60 years.

Beyond 75-80 years, weaning of dependent persons must be done under medical supervision. Age-related frailties lead to a greater vulnerability to symptoms caused by suddenly stopping alcohol. The medical follow-up is done in a hospital environment in a specialized service. You should first talk to your doctor who will organize a hospitalization plan for alcohol withdrawal.

Illustration: The Situation of Mr. X., 71 Years Old

Mr. X. is 71 years old. The latter contacted the firefighters on a Sunday afternoon after noting that her husband was making inconsistent remarks to her. When they had just finished lunch, Mr. X. asked his wife to hurry to get her things ready to go take the plane to visit their children who live in Lyon.

While this project was not current, Mr. X. insisted to his wife, began to get angry, and wander around the house to collect various items such as a radio, cutlery, and several scarves. Mr. X. then explained that they were going to miss the plane, mentioning a date and a time which did not correspond to the day. Madame X then contacted the firefighters to explain the situation to them. They then took charge of driving Mr. X. to the emergency room of the nearby hospital.

On arrival at the emergency room, Mr. X. is very anxious and easily irritated. He doesn’t understand where he is or what he’s doing there. The doctor then questions Madame X. about her husband’s medical history. Madame X explains to the doctor that her husband has never had any transformation health problems, that he does not take any medication and she describes him as a rather “homebody”.

Mental Confusion Linked to High Blood Alcohol Levels

The doctor then decides to carry out various examinations including a blood test to understand the origin of this mental confusion which appeared suddenly. While waiting for the results, he asks Madame X. about her husband’s lifestyle. Madame X explains to the doctor that they go out every morning for a walk and then to do some shopping. They watch television in the afternoon. During meals, they generally drink a little red wine. Every Saturday evening, Mr. X finds a few friends without his wife to play cards. Madame X. remembers that last Saturday it was her husband’s turn to bring the bottle of whiskey.

The doctor then questions Mrs. X more specifically about her husband’s alcohol consumption. He learns that Mr. X consumes 2 glasses of alcohol every day with each meal, and 2 to 3 whiskeys on Saturday evening. Mrs. X. is very surprised by these questions because her husband’s alcohol consumption has been the same since they have known each other, and she has never seen him drunk.

Blood tests nevertheless show a relatively high alcohol level (alcohol concentration in the blood), at 1.8g / L. Madame X. is even more surprised and asks the doctor to explain to her how her husband can have such a high blood alcohol level. The doctor then explains to him that with age, alcohol consumption is less and less well tolerated. For the same amount of alcohol consumed, the alcohol level in the blood is higher and the body will take longer to eliminate the alcohol.

This explains why, without having changed the quantity of alcohol usually consumed, Mr. X presented confusion whereas until now, his consumption had not caused such disorders. The doctor goes on to explain to Mrs. X. that with age, the state of intoxication can manifest itself in this form.

The blood test also shows disturbances in the functioning of the liver which could be related to acute alcoholic hepatitis. The doctor then decides to hospitalize Mr. X for a few days. He prescribed him adapted hepatitis and alcohol treatment centers near me.

Possible Supports to Reduce Consumption

Mr. X.’s condition improved in a few days and his wife then estimated that he had “become as before”. Before leaving the hospital, Mr. X. met a nurse specializing in addictology who took stock of his consumption with him and explained to him the reasons for this confusion. He explains that after 65 years it is recommended not to exceed seven drinks per week: no more than one drink per day for daily consumers and two glasses per occasion for occasional consumers.

Mr. and Mrs. X were not aware of these recommendations, which also encourages Mrs. X. to reduce her daily alcohol consumption. The specialist nurse then gives them various tips and brochures to help them reduce their consumption. He also offers Mr. X. an appointment with an addictologist two weeks after his discharge from the hospital. Indeed, the specialist nurse explains to Mr. X that it can be difficult to change his habits towards alcohol. If he is in difficulty in reducing his alcohol consumption, Mr. X. will therefore be able to benefit from the help and support of the addictologist.

Mr. X. also leaves the hospital with an appointment for a neuropsychological assessment allowing him to take stock of his memory and his ability to concentrate because excessive alcohol consumption could have led to such disorders. If these disorders are present, Mr. X. may benefit from neuropsychological monitoring for a few weeks to help him recover his cognitive performance.