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Over-age drinking

December is the booziest month of the year, as Canadians increase their alcohol intake by about 35 per cent. That’s a lot of eggnog.

That puts us even higher than the Italians, who drink about 30 per cent more than their monthly average in December, according to figures from a British think tank. At least we’re still behind the Britons, who tip their glasses 41 per cent more often.

It’s expected that moderation will give way to indulgence during the holidays. Who doesn’t spend a bit too much money, eat a few too many desserts and drink a tad too much wine? But there is a segment of the population, medical researchers warn, that might want to go easy on the Christmas spirits.

Drinking among the elderly has become a significant problem. Some doctors believe it’s more than a problem, calling it a “silent epidemic.” There are many theories why people begin drinking heavily later in life. They may be depressed, grieving the deaths of loved ones or suffering physical pain. Some drink because they are lonely. This social isolation is also why the problem goes largely unnoticed.

Alcohol abuse is easy to hide if you have limited interaction with other people. If you no longer work, there is no boss to notice slipping performance and erratic behaviour at the office. If you no longer drive, there is no car for police officers to spot oscillating about the yellow line on the road back from the pub. If your spouse has died and your children live far away, there is no one to recognize that the collection of empty bottles on your kitchen counter has become alarmingly extensive.

Unfortunately, the people best positioned to detect the problem — doctors — often ignore it, too. Professional bodies such as the American Medical Association have implored physicians to ask elderly patients about their drinking habits. Yet few do. Many doctors assume seniors are non-drinkers, are too embarrassed to ask questions about alcohol (doing so could appear disrespectful), or avoid detecting the problem because they don’t know how to treat it.

Alcohol abuse among the elderly is going to become an even greater problem as baby boomers, who drink more than previous generations, move into their retirement years. Although studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption has some health benefits, such as a reduced risk of acquiring a cardiovascular disease or diabetes, there are age-related risks to drinking even small amounts.

As we age, our bodies become less tolerant of alcohol and the stuff lingers in our bloodstream longer. People aged 65 and older are also on more medications than ever before, and alcohol can react with certain drugs and cause other complications.

That doesn’t mean older people can’t enjoy a nip. It just means they should be aware that a moderate amount of alcohol for a 70-year-old is not the same as that for a 40-year-old — something best learned before a tumble down stairs.

For seniors with drinking problems, the good news is that treatment is effective regardless of age. Aging societies like Canada need to be sensitive to age-related health hazards, and, sadly, alcohol abuse could be one of them.

source:  Ottawa Citizen

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