Baby Boomers are the fastest growing segment of the population. They’re also the group with the most dramatic increase in harmful alcohol use. According to a research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, increases in alcohol use, high risk drinking, and alcohol use disorders (AUD) among adults 65 years and older were substantially higher relative to earlier surveys.
The most alarming findings indicated that the number of adults 65 years and older who drank has risen higher than the national average by about 23 percent. And the average number of adults 65 and older suffering from alcohol abuse had risen by nearly 107 percent.
The study also reconfirmed the well-known correlation between alcohol use and the higher risk for disability, morbidity, and death from many alcohol-related chronic diseases. According to the National Institute on Aging, drinking too much alcohol over a long time can:
- Lead to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage
- Worsen some health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss and mood disorders
- Make some medical problems hard for doctors to find and treat—for example, alcohol causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull pain that might be a warning sign of a heart attack.
- Cause some older people to be forgetful and confused—these symptoms could be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to the medical risks are the many safety risks that alcohol creates for older adults. Drinking can impair a person’s judgment, coordination, and reaction time. This increases the risk of falls, household accidents, and car crashes.
In the midst of the medical and safety risks, the increase in both binge drinking and AUD among older adults has created a new urgency for doctors to screen for and identify unhealthy alcohol use by their older patients. Physicians are ideally positioned to discuss the risks of continued use and the options available to stop drinking for those with the problem. To support this effort, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), offers multiple online resources for providers, such as brochures, fact sheets, alert bulletins, classroom resources, and videocasts. NIAAA’s website also provides the general public with information related to alcohol abuse among older adults.
In Houston, The Council on Recovery’s Wellderly program provides information and resources to help older adults, their family members, caregivers, and service providers identify and address alcohol and substance use and/or misuse. The Wellderly program’s unique suite of services include:
- Community education and outreach to older adults and service providers
- Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)
- Case management
- Specific help and guidance in talking with an older adult who has questions about their own substance use or a friend’s use of substances
- Education and support for family members
- Educational materials that aid older adults in taking better care of themselves
The Wellderly Program is supported by funding from The United Way of Greater Houston. For more information about the Wellderly Program please call 281.200.9109, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact us online.