Alcohol use is on the rise among older adults. And it’s not easy to spot. Many of the signs resemble common problems of aging. And who wants to think that when Mom stumbles, for instance, it might be because of drink?! There’s a lot of shame associated with drinking, so older adults—especially older women—often hide the activity.
About two-thirds of older adults with drinking problems have been drinking much of their lives. They’ve been “getting away with it.” Or they may have stopped in middle age, and then relapse in late life.
The remaining one-third of older adult drinkers with a problem are people who may even have been teetotalers in their youth. Keep your eyes open! Even if Dad never seemed interested before, alcohol could be his “comfort” now. Loss makes elders particularly susceptible, for instance after the death of a spouse or a move to a new living situation. Pain or failing health are other common triggers. Even something as happy as retirement can pull the rug out, removing friendships, identity, and daily routines. With so much idle time, it’s easy to fall into a drinking habit without realizing it. When one drink becomes two or three, it can lead to dependence.
Loss of meaning and purpose are huge culprits
Loneliness and isolation lead to depression and anxiety. Without social contacts, it’s just too easy to “self-medicate” the emotional pain with alcohol. Older women generally, and men who have lost their partners, are especially vulnerable to drinking in later life.
Signs of a drinking problem
- Unexplained falls and bruises
- Moodiness, irritability
- Poor sleep
- Weight loss
- Changes in appearance and hygiene
- Increased secrecy, hiding bottles
In a follow-up blog post, we will describe constructive ways to raise this sensitive subject with your loved one, as well as things you can do to help him or her.
Are you worried?
Maybe this is a new issue. Or maybe your relative has been a lifelong drinker at no small expense to the family. As the Northern Virginia experts in family caregiving, we at Senior Care Management Services know how delicate this issue can be. And sometimes even painful. Give us a call at 703-329-0900 to talk about the options. You don’t have to face this alone.
When your father struggles to remember a grandchild’s name, should you be concerned? Older adults typically have some memory loss. People with Alzheimer’s disease, however, experience very specific changes in their thinking that go beyond the normal forgetfulness of aging.
You might consider a dementia evaluation if your loved one has begun having difficulty with the following:
- Remembering new things. Do you have to give the same information over and over again?
- Dealing with numbers and logical thinking. Is Dad fumbling with the checkbook? Having trouble with a favorite card game?
- Familiar activities. Is Mom leaving ingredients out of favorite recipes? Skipping steps?
- Understanding the passage of time. Do you have to remind your loved one of the season or year?
- Changes in vision. Does Dad have trouble judging distances? Does he get easily lost or disoriented, not recognizing familiar places?
- Carrying on a conversation. Is Mom repeating herself or seeming to make up words? Do her answers in a conversation not make sense with the topic?
- Losing things. Are you finding things put in odd places?
- Poor decision making. Is Dad spending money on unusual purchases? Do you have to convince Mom to bathe?
- Socializing or doing hobbies. Has Mom given up a favorite hobby or withdrawn from a group of friends?
- Staying calm. Is your loved one suddenly moody? Perhaps anxious or irritable?
Any one of these changes in behavior could signal the beginning of a more serious memory problem, or not. That is why it’s important to have your loved one checked out by a physician.
- It may not be Alzheimer’s. A number of reversible conditions look like Alzheimer’s. With proper diagnosis and treatment, these symptoms disappear.
- If it is Alzheimer’s, there are benefits to detecting it as early as possible. Medications are available that slow the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Other medications may help relieve moodiness.
For more information about what’s normal and what’s not, check out the Alzheimer’s Association’s in-depth description of the 10 signs of Alzheimer’s.
Are you worried?
As the Northern Virginia experts in aging well, we at Senior Care Management Services understand how troubling the thought of Alzheimer’s can be. We can help you get a proper evaluation. Give us a call at 703-329-0900.