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Many seniors enjoy staying in their own homes because it allows them to keep living in ways they’ve enjoyed for years. They like the familiar surroundings and routines, and in many ways, it can be a way to maintain their quality of life and independence. However, there are a few things that need to change in how seniors live as they get older, especially as their health changes over time. Certain medications and health conditions make alcohol a questionable choice for seniors, and it’s better to ensure they have all the information they need to make wise choices.

Why worry about seniors and alcohol?

It would be easy to miss having a conversation about alcohol with your senior mom or dad, as for years this would have been a judgement they made on their own. But just as you may raise other safety concerns with your senior parents, or observe routines in their home in order to reassure yourself of their safety, so should you take note of alcohol habits and consumption. A senior’s ability to metabolize alcohol may change over time, their weight and eating habits may change, and their typical mobility may not be what it was when they were younger. A drink or two could have far more effect on them than they were accustomed to in earlier years.

A good place to start is by observing your mom or dad’s habits regarding alcohol. If they don’t drink or keep it in the house, it may be fine to simply keep an eye on things and watch for changes. But if a glass of wine or drink after dinner was a common routine, it’s wise to chat with their family doctor to get some clear information on what’s safe and what’s not. Medical advice is enormously important in this situation, as their doctor will have a precise list of their medications and a good awareness of any existing medical conditions.

Risk factors 

Alcohol can be dangerous when mixed with medications commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, epilepsy, and pain or infection, as well as many others. Even common cold and flu remedies can cause reactions when mixed with alcohol, and this too can be dangerous as these drugs are available over the counter and may not come with a doctor’s warning. Even when a drug is prescribed by a doctor, warnings may be misunderstood, forgotten, or go unnoticed by a senior. You can help by attending medical appointments, taking notes, or ensuring a caregiver accompanies your mom or dad. Alcohol is contraindicated for many medications and health conditions, so it should become routine to ask at every appointment.

Reactions can be mistaken for signs of aging rather than flagged as alcohol-related, so listen for mentions of symptoms that could indicate intervention is needed. Aging doesn’t always mean memory loss, sleep issues, and changes in capability - sometimes these are indications that something else is going on. Is there an underlying health condition? Is it a reaction to medication? Is it alcohol consumption, or mixing a drink or two with a new prescription? Always ask questions until you feel comfortable you are getting real information and answers. It’s worth noting a family history of alcohol dependency or alcoholism can also be a risk factor.

Warning signs

Pay attention to how alcohol is consumed in your mom or dad’s home, or when they visit you. Changes in when alcohol is consumed, how much, what types, and reactions are all worthy of note as you assess the situation. Keep in mind seniors are likely experiencing life transitions that can trigger or exacerbate issues with alcohol dependency. They are at a stage where they may need to deal with the declining health or loss of loved ones and peers as well as their own changing health and aging. 

Possible warning signs:

- Memory issues or confusion
- Increased concerns with mobility or falling
- Changes in self-care (dressing, bathing, etc.)
- Decreased ability to manage their home and affairs
- Lack of interest in activities or routines
- Depression or feelings of sadness
- Changes in sleep habits
- Weight gain or loss
- Irritability or mood swings
- Isolation from family and friends

If you notice changes in your mom or dad’s habits, be aware that you may need to take steps to ensure their safety and well-being. You may want to start a conversation, show concern and support, share information, and/or speak with their doctor depending on your concerns and what you observe. While a celebratory toast or occasional drink may not be a problem, other alcohol consumption can be cause for concerns. Arm yourself with information on alcohol and health for seniors, and stay involved in the conversation. Always consult a medical professional if you have concerns about alcoholism or alcohol consumption in general. 

Have questions or feedback for us on what you just read? Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to chat with you. When you can’t be there to check in on your senior mom or dad or see for yourself how things are going, our caregivers can offer valuable reassurance and peace of mind. 

                                                                                   ~  Senior Homecare by Angels Edmonton team

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