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Alcohol and Drugs

Most older people have good health and can enjoy alcohol without problems.  However, alcohol can affect people differently as they grow older because of changes in the way the body processes alcohol and sometimes this can lead to difficulties. They may write falls, loss of memory, confusion, and shaking limbs off as ‘old age’, but they may in fact be signs of a drinking problem.
Perhaps the greatest danger comes from mixing alcohol with medicines. In many cases, alcohol makes the effect of medicines stronger, or causes side effects. Unless the doctor or pharmacist has said it is safe, alcohol and medicines should not be mixed.
Drinking in a safer way in older age requires the person to be aware of the effect that alcohol is having on them and to reduce the amount of alcohol accordingly. For instance, the body’s ability to signal thirst deteriorates as people age and, when combined with a diuretic like alcohol, the risk of dehydration is increased.
Older people who have been regular drinkers are likely to need to cut down their consumption by at least half. For some older people, particularly with health problems or those taking medicines, it may be best not to drink at all.

HPA - Health Promotion Agency has some very useful information on alcohol and older people. They have a booklet published in 2016 that provides information about:

  • How our bodies become less able to cope with alcohol as we age
  • how alcohol affects certain medicines and health conditions
  • how much alcohol is too much when you're older
  • what older people can do if they think they have a drinking problem
  • what family/whānau can do

Download the pdf here


Hidden Harm: up to 40% of older Kiwis drink hazardously
New research by Massey University shows that between 35-40% of New Zealanders may drink hazardously. A research team from Massey University’s School of Health Sciences and the University of Auckland’s Centre for Addiction Research, funded by the Health Promotion Agency (HPA), explored the prevalence of hazardous drinking using data from more than 4,000 New Zealanders aged 50 years or older from the Massey University Health, Work and Retirement Longitudinal Study.
The research focused on older adults, as they are more at risk of harm from alcohol than younger drinkers.
The team found that 83 per cent of older New Zealanders in this sample were current drinkers, and between 35 to 40 per cent were considered ‘hazardous drinkers’. This means that their level of drinking – either on its own or in combination with health conditions and medication use – increased their risk of immediate harm (e.g., blackout, hospitalisation) or long-term harm (e.g., worsening health, death). Approximately half of older males (46 to 50 per cent) were hazardous drinkers, compared to around a quarter of older females (25 to 31 per cent).
Professor Janie Sheridan and Dr David Newcombe, research co-leaders from the University of Auckland, noted the importance these findings for informing alcohol screening practice. “This research highlights the need to screen all older patients for alcohol use, regardless of their presenting problem,” Professor Sheridan says. “We found that many older New Zealanders are drinking hazardously, and many of those who are most at-risk see their GPs at least three times a year. This makes primary health care a perfect setting for identifying and helping older at-risk drinkers.”

To view the publication click here


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