Alcohol Treatment for the Elderly

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism we offer bespoke alcohol treatment for those of you who are over sixty-five years old. Studies reveal there is a growth in ‘late-onset alcoholism’. People who drank very little alcohol for the majority of their life begin to drink alcohol later in life for a variety of reasons. The elderly increase their level of drinking often to kill pain, reduce boredom or to help them sleep at night.

Because these people were not previously heavy drinkers, their alcoholism often goes unnoticed by those closest to them. Since the population’s proportion of elderly people is set to grow over the next twenty years, ‘late onset’ alcoholism is also set to become a much more common problem.

Understanding Alcohol Abuse Among The Elderly

When we think about people struggling with alcohol abuse, our minds often drift to younger or middle-aged people, but it is important to remember that addiction is a disease that can affect people at any time of life – including our later years.

In fact, a negative relationship with alcohol is so commonly dissociated with the elderly, that many doctors fail to diagnosis addiction in the age group. This means that it is even more important for family and loved ones to be extra vigilant when assessing an elderly relative’s relationship with alcohol.

When we look at alcoholism, we see two main patterns of the disease, the first being early-onset alcoholism which develops before the patient turns 25 and late-onset alcoholism which takes place after the age of 45.

For some people, alcohol is not a problem until later in life when certain aspects such as loss of loved ones or changes to employment come into play. Often, an older person may begin to feel lonely or isolated and may use alcohol as a way of numbing the pain, drinking without the knowledge of anyone they know.

This can pose a serious health risk since alcohol has a different effect on the body as we get older – putting seniors in a high-risk category for complications as a result of addiction.

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If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s drinking habits, call us today on 0800 111 41 08 to receive free advice & support.

How Alcohol Affects The Elderly

As we age, our bodies change drastically and when we consume large quantities of alcohol regularly this can cause serious damage. This damage can occur at any age but is generally exacerbated as we get older.

The reason for this is that older people tend to have a lower tolerance to alcohol meaning that it is much easier to become intoxicated, this can then result in accidents such as on the road or a fall.

Older adults will take longer to absorb alcohol than those younger than them, meaning that it remains in the digestive system for a longer time. As a result of this elderly people may experience interactions with their medication and in severe cases – organ damage.

In younger patients, additional muscle helps to absorb the alcohol much faster, however, as we get older our muscle mass decreases meaning that we have even less of an ability to absorb alcohol. What this means is that the toxin will remain in the body for longer and the person will notice the effects of it for a lengthier time.

One of the major issues with drinking too much alcohol is that it can cause severe dehydration – this is more of a problem in the older generation because they have less water in the body as a result of age. In turn, this can mean that seniors may become much more dehydrated when drinking than a younger person.

What Causes Bad Drinking Habits In Later Life?

There are many reasons why people may change their drinking habits during later life, even if these people have spent many years having a positive relationship with alcohol.

It is thought that more women than men develop problems with alcohol as they get older, although this is not to say that men are unaffected. One of the main causes of bad drinking habits in older people is the loss of a loved one – most commonly a significant other.

After spending many years with one person, their sudden departure can bring about intense feelings of grief and some people use alcohol as a way of coping with these feelings.

In addition to this, we frequently see older people who are feeling empty now that their children have left home – as if they no longer have a purpose. Some members of the elderly community may also use alcohol as a way to deal with health problems both physical and psychological.

As we age our bodies begin to deteriorate and some people turn to alcohol to handle this. Other issues that affect an elderly person’s drinking habits may be:

  • Feelings of sadness after moving home
  • Losing friends to death, distance and other factors
  • Being bored after retiring
  • Being widowed
  • Lack of social activity to structure the day
  • Habit or “what I’ve always known”

Risk Factors For Alcoholism Among The Elderly

Before looking at the risk factors, it is important to keep in mind that anyone can be affected by problems with alcohol but some people in later life may be more susceptible to developing an addiction and requiring alcohol treatment for the elderly.

Firstly, those who have chronic health conditions may be more at risk. These conditions are likely to be things such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes and studies have shown that elderly people in this category may be up to five times more likely to have problems.

Additionally, those who have struggled with alcohol abuse at previous points in their lives, or indeed throughout their life may be more likely to have problems in their later years.

Older adults who are female have been suggested to be more likely to develop problems. It is thought that this may be due to women being more likely to develop heart problems and other health conditions and using alcohol as a way of self-medicating. In addition to this, there are higher numbers of females who are taking part in binge drinking, compared to males of the same age.

How Common Is Late-Onset Alcoholism?

Among heavy drinkers, 10-15% of these people do not begin to adopt negative drinking habits until later in life. It is thought that as many as 11% of hospital admissions in older people are related to alcohol.

In addition to this, 14% of elderly patients coming into emergency treatment are doing so as a result of alcohol abuse. However, since many cases of alcoholism in the elderly go unnoticed, the problem could be more severe than we currently understand.

It is believed that 20% of cases of elderly people being treated in a psychiatric hospital are related to addiction to either drugs or alcohol. It is therefore essential that alcohol treatment for the elderly is easily accessible.

Signs Of Alcohol Abuse In The Elderly

If you are concerned that an elderly friend or relative may be struggling with alcohol or perhaps you notice that their behaviour has changed, this could be a sign that they have developed an addiction. These signs may include:

  • Using alcohol as a way to calm the nerves or handle feelings of depression
  • Drinking alcohol quickly
  • Often consuming more than one alcoholic drink each day
  • Being secretive about their drinking habits
  • Causing harm to themselves or another person whilst under the influence
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Behaving irritably or unreasonably when they have not had a drink
  • Life effects as a result of drinking such as legal issues or problems with relationships.
  • Avoiding taking part in social events that do not involve alcohol
  • Drunkenness
  • Changes in their memory or other cognitive function
  • Self-care declining such as poor hygiene or not taking care of the home as well as they once did

The Dangers of Late-Onset Alcoholism

Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol is particularly unhealthy for those of us who are over the age of sixty-five years old. Now the kidney’s ability to filter blood is reduced.

Thus, the elderly establishes a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) much quicker than do younger drinkers. The elderly are also more likely to mix alcohol with prescription drugs, often with dangerous consequences.

Furthermore, the elderly who drink alcohol are much more likely to suffer from depression. Such problems are compounded by the fact that the elderly are much less likely to seek out help for their drinking problem. This is especially the case for drinkers who were before not known for their excessive drinking habits.

Health Consequences Of Drinking Alcohol For The Elderly

Alcohol can cause health problems in people of any age but this may be worse in older people. For example, consuming high quantities of alcohol may worsen certain health conditions which are prevalent among older people, these may be things such as osteoporosis, liver damage and mood disorders.

However, alcohol may also encourage other health conditions such as certain types of cancer, liver damage and problems with the brain. If the cognitive function is affected this can lead to the elderly person possibly experiencing accidents and falls.

These may result in serious physical damage such as broken bone and deep wounds. On top of this, there is evidence to suggest that drinking high levels of alcohol can bring on a particular type of dementia known as Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome.

Older people who indulge in too much alcohol may also have increased blood pressure which can significantly increase the risk of stroke and what’s more, can be attributed to the increased risk of infection as the immune system is affected.

Physical health may also be threatened as alcohol can affect sleep quality and appetite – with many people struggling to maintain a healthy diet. On top of this, many elderly patients are taking some sort of prescription medication which can have potentially dangerous interactions with alcohol.

Risk Of Mixing Medications And Alcohol Among The Elderly

Certain medications do not react well when mixed with alcohol – this is sometimes referred to as a dangerous interaction. Some of the most common interactions we see in patients who require alcohol treatment for the elderly are:

  • Aspirin which can cause serious damage to the liver as well as internal bleeding
  • Acetaminophen taken with alcohol regularly can cause problems with the liver and kidneys
  • Medicines for allergies and the common cold can interact with alcohol and result in heightened drowsiness
  • If alcohol is taken with cough syrup the patient may notice decreased levels of concentrations
  • Sleeping pills and alcohol can be potentially life-threatening with the risk of breathing ceasing during sleep. Less serious side effects may be gastrointestinal issues and confusion
  • If you drink alcohol with anti-depressants or other mood-regulating medications, it can cause the medicine to lose its effect whilst also increasing the chance of damage to the liver

How Can We Help?

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism we offer a vast range of treatment options for the elderly who suffer from alcoholism. Treatment options vary from a home detox to outpatient and residential treatment. Each treatment option has its own particular merits. The most appropriate form of treatment largely depends on your unique needs.

When you call Rehab 4 Alcoholism a counsellor will conduct a thorough pre-admission assessment. They will then recommend the form of treatment we feel is most suited to your particular needs.

Generally, we recommend residential alcohol treatment. Here your elderly relative will live in the rehab centre whilst undergoing treatment for his or her alcoholism. When alcohol consumption is suddenly brought to a halt, your loved one will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is a process known as ‘detoxification’.

To prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms your elderly relative will be assessed by a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will assess the prescription medications your relative is currently consuming. Generally, our psychiatrist prescribes a course of Librium. This drug reduces alcoholism-induced withdrawal symptoms to a safe level.

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All it takes is one phone call to change your own life, or the life of a loved one, for the better. Contact us today on 0800 111 41 08 for help & support on your detox & rehab options.

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorders In The Elderly

Many older adults who drink heavily are unaware of the health risks that are involved with this. A study revealed that once patients were made aware, they were decreased the amount of alcohol they were drinking. This demonstrates that alcohol treatment for the elderly can be as effective as a treatment for younger patients.

It is also important that elderly patients make their drinking history known to their care providers. This allows them to design more appropriate care plans in all areas of their health. However, many older adults do not wish to discuss this and approaching the subject delicately is always advisable.

There are a variety of treatment options when it comes to seniors. These include medications, physical intervention and help with psychological issues. When detoxing from alcohol, the elderly patient must remain hydrated and a drip containing electrolytes and fluid is highly recommended.

Doctors may also treat elderly patients with a drug called Naltrexone. This inhibits the effects of alcohol and has been shown to effectively reduce the risk of relapse in older patients.

Age-Specific And Mixed Age Addiction Treatment Programs

Many care centres are beginning to realise that alcohol addiction is a problem in older adults and as such have begun to develop treatment programs aimed at the age group.

There are two options for this:

1. Support groups and treatments that are aimed specifically at the older age bracket known as age-specific treatments. These may include aspects which apply only to this age group. For example, issues surrounding the loss of a lifelong partner or retirement. 

2. Elderly patients may also take part in mixed-age treatments which are much more generalised. These include mixed generation and gender treatment programmes and support groups.

Medical Detox For The Elderly

Detox is often the first phase of addiction recovery. It involves ridding the body of all traces of the toxin to break the physical tolerance and dependence which has developed. It is important to do a detox before attempting to tackle the underlying emotional issues which may have caused the addiction in the first place.

However, during this time a patient will go through withdrawal and some of the symptoms of this can be fatal if not supervised by a medical care team. At best withdrawal can be uncomfortable.

There are medications which can be given to ease the symptoms of withdrawal but doctors need to ensure that these will not interact with any medications that the patient is currently taking.

In addition to this, some medications used in detox for younger patients may have negative effects on older adults. It is, therefore, important to conduct a thorough assessment before proceeding with prescribing medication.

Outpatient Or Residential Alcohol Treatment For The Elderly?

Outpatient treatment involves addiction rehab in the form of detox and therapy whilst still living at home. The patient will attend regular sessions but return home afterwards.

On the other hand, a residential treatment involves the patient remaining in a rehab facility whilst undergoing treatment. This is thought to be the more effective option since temptation is removed. They will also have around the clock medical care and can focus on their recovery without distraction.

In elderly patients, it is more likely that underlying physical and mental health problems will be present. Therefore, the care team must work closely to provide the most optimal care plan for the patient.

In many cases, residential treatment is preferable for older patients. They will have immediate access to medical care in the case of an emergency. This is vital to ensuring they recover fully with their health intact.

What To Expect From An Alcohol Treatment Program For Seniors

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of alcohol treatment for the elderly is a personalized care plan. It is tailored to their needs which can greatly increase the chances of a successful recovery.

This may include psychological therapies, medications and detox. It also addresses other physical health problems either caused by alcohol or those which are pre-existing.

Once detox concludes your elderly relative will engage in therapy sessions. These sessions treat the underlying mental causes of alcoholism. Therapy helps your relative examine the emotional, physical and mental reasons for drinking alcohol.

Patients are then taught how to cope with physical and mental pain in ways that do not involve alcohol. The patient may also be offered holistic treatments and will be allowed to move at their own pace. They will be able to set goals and targets and work their way towards them.

One of the commonly used techniques in alcohol treatment for the elderly is motivational interviewing. This allows the patient to explore their needs and come to terms with their problems with the help of a professional. This can, therefore, help them to overcome challenges and find new ways of dealing with them.

The treatment is designed to help the patient to feel more independent and confident. It also gives them the tools and techniques to cope with negative emotions more healthily.

Recovery Support And Relapse Prevention In The Elderly

Once the senior has completed intensive addiction treatment, they must continue support to prevent a relapse from occurring. In many cases, this can be in the form of support groups and 12-step programs. These are operated in various locations in the community.

These groups will give the elderly person a positive social circle as well as support from people who understand their problems. If an elderly patient were to relapse, the chances of serious health complications are increased.

It is vital that ongoing support is given. There are a variety of 12-step programs including ones which are aimed specifically at this age group, giving the patient even more tailored support. In addition to this, caregivers, friends and family need to offer support once treatment has ended.

How To Address A Senior’s Alcohol Abuse

It can be difficult to approach the subject of alcohol abuse in seniors. You may feel that you are speaking out of place or showing disrespect – but this is not the case. Helping your elderly loved one with their problems with alcohol is done from a place of love. But it should be done with a level of understanding.

Quite often, the drinking habits of an older person may not be picked up on. So those close to a person need to be aware and monitor the drinking habits if there is any concern.

Most important, the elderly person has to want to be involved in a discussion about their alcohol use. The best way to achieve this is to talk openly and honestly in a calm manner. However, if you are immediately concerned about the health or welfare of the senior, it is OK to take matters into your own hands. Discuss your concerns with their doctor who will be able to offer advice and support.

Which Setting Is Best For Senior Living?

There is a wealth of choices for older adults when it comes to accommodation. Each person’s needs will vary meaning that the most suitable housing will also vary. You might wish to consider the following options:

  • Living at home independently is a good option for those without any major health problems. But it is important to undergo a detailed health assessment to determine the needs of the patient. It is also important to keep in mind that this option provides the least amount of on-hand medical care
  • Care within the home can be given by trained caregivers who will visit the elderly person on a pre-determined basis. They can provide assistance with everything from personal hygiene to medication. It is once again important to get a detailed health check if the patient wishes to remain at home and receive care
  • There is a wide range of retirement communities which allow the patient to move to a smaller, more manageable home. This is a good choice for those who do not suffer from physical restrictions and wish to remain independent
  • Adult day-care provides a safe and comfortable space for elderly people to be given care. It is a great option for those who are living with family but who are left alone during the day time. Patients will return home in the evenings and will be provided with detailed care. This includes meals, medication and leisure activities
  • Assisted living provides elderly people with independence but a good level of support with day-to-day tasks. The patient can feel confident in living in their own space with help if it is needed
  • Long term care gives elderly patients 24-hour support and care and is often given in a nursing home or other similar setting. This is beneficial for those who require more detailed and intense care

What To Do If A Senior Refuses To Stop Drinking

Many elderly people who drink heavily may not want to give up drinking. They may feel like it is one of the only things that make them happy in their later years. Unless they are not of sound mind, there is not much anyone can do until they are ready to address the issue themselves.

That being said it is important to decide on how to move forward. For some people, cutting ties from the person is the only way to emotionally cope with the issues. Whereas for others, more intense care and close monitoring works well.

In some cases, you may be able to put a limit on how easily the person can access alcohol. But in doing this, you should always keep in mind that withdrawal from alcohol can be potentially life-threatening. It should therefore never be stopped suddenly without medical supervision.

It’s Never Too Late

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we believe recovery & sobriety is worth being achieved at any age, no matter your background or history. Call us today on 0800 111 41 08 to change your life.