Mixing Alcohol into the Mix
Growing older means facing a mixture of ongoing changes in one's health, medications, and cognitive skills. Changes in your aging parent's or loved one's alcohol consumption can be hard to detect because it mirrors so many other symptoms. Is your mom's recent fall due to advancing Parkinson's disease or the empty wine bottles in the recycling bin? Or is your dad's inability to remember your last phone conversation with him a sign of Alzheimer's or a sign of alcoholism?
A Little Nightcap Does a Lot More Than it Used To
To complicate matters, older adults tend to have a higher sensitivity to alcohol. Add the fact that many medications compound the affects of alcohol and vice versa. And yet, a recent study from Brandeis University found that one out of ten elderly adults on Medicare reports drinking more than the recommended amount. (That's more than 30 drinks a month or more than four in any day.) The key word here is "reports." Denial is such a big part of alcoholism, odds are that the number is much higher.
Ask. Listen. Repeat.
Talk to your parents or loved ones - and their doctor - openly about your concerns. Yes, it's a tough talk to have. But ignoring the problem could fuel it. There are many reasons older adults suddenly begin abusing alcohol after a lifetime of social or controlled drinking. They may be grieving the loss of a loved one, or grieving the loss of their own autonomy. They may be in physical pain. They may be lonely. If you can catch the abusive behavior early, they could be more open to getting the help they need. Make sure you talk to them when they're sober. It may take many talks. And if you're not getting through, call in the troops. A family intervention or professional counselor might be the answer.
Late Stages of Alcoholism
If you've been living with your loved one's alcoholism for many years, detection is no longer the issue. And, unfortunately, intervention may no longer be an option. At this stage, alcoholism's long- term physical and mental health effects are taking their toll, exacerbating the natural aging process. Talk frankly to your parent's doctors, especially during a hospital stay. Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous if it's not moderated and medicated appropriately.
Be on the Lookout for Other Substance Abuse
Many older adults are addicted to prescription pain medications. Watch for missing pills and multiple doctors and pharmacies. Marijuana abuse may also be the cause of memory loss and other symptoms.
Get the Support You Need
Dealing with the complications of alcoholism and other substance abuse is complex. No one should face it alone, especially when so many wonderful support systems are available - many which are free. Alcoholics Anonymous, Seniors Anonymous, Families Anonymous, Ala Non, and Narcotics Anonymous are just a few of the many resources that can make a huge difference in the days ahead.