Alcohol affects the body in many ways. Along with cigarette smoking, alcohol use is one of the main lifestyle reasons for death in Americans. However, there is often the debate over how much is too much and what about the benefits associated with moderate alcohol intake?
In most studies it is accepted that drinking 2 to 3 units of alcohol per day for women and men respectively is a safe limit. However, this does not necessarily account for being significantly underweight, malnourished and in people with various chronic diseases, all of which are significant factors in the elderly.
Alcohol affects almost every system of the body in a negative manner. Alcohol strains the liver, disrupts the water and electrolyte balance, affects the brain hormones, alters the blood glucose levels and changes the heart rate and blood pressure. These are only some of the effects of alcohol, even with alcohol consumption within the daily “safe” limit and among younger, healthier users.
In most instances these effects are short lived – it wears out in a couple of hours provided that a person does not continue consuming alcohol. However, it takes much longer for alcohol to be cleared out of the system although the noticeable effects may have subsided. In the elderly this is delayed even further with both age, medication and disease-related changes in the body.
Should the person be a daily drinker, then another few units of alcohol will be introduced into the body even before the original by products are cleared. This has a cumulative effect over time. The safe limit is therefore no longer safe in the elderly. There is no specific quantity of alcohol that can be a definitive safe limit for all seniors.
There are too many individual factors at play like changes in body weight, pre-existing diseases, chronic conditions that may arise later, general health status and medication usage. Although there have been moves to cut the safe alcohol limit for the elderly as much as by 50%, none of this has gone beyond just advisory boards.
There is no law in place that states that a person cannot drink more than the alcohol limit provided he or she is not driving, is not posing a threat to people around them or clearly endangering their own lives. The elderly, often with more times on their hand and less supervision, are among a high risk for alcohol abuse and addiction which remains largely unnoticed.
Therefore it is difficult to quantify the drinking patterns in the elderly with adverse health effects in their age group and apply a specific limit to all seniors. It is advisable that seniors exhibit moderation as far as possible looking at a daily intake not exceeding levels as low as 1 unit per day for women and 1.5 units per day for men. If possible, alcohol should be avoided altogether by patients on chronic medication and with chronic diseases.
Attempting to seek the benefits of moderate alcohol use like lower cholesterol levels is of little use at time in life where these conditions have most likely already developed. Furthermore the body as it gets older is not able to deal with its everyday stress let alone the additional strain from processing alcohol. Therefore the elderly should reconsider their drinking habits and weigh out the pleasures, and possible benefits, from the known risks and potential dangers.