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Research Reveals Seniors May Not Feel Alcohol Effects As Much as Younger Drinkers

Not only may older adults be more affected by a couple of glasses of wine than their younger counterparts are, they are also less likely to be aware of it, a new study indicates.
Not only may older adults be more affected by a couple of glasses of wine than their younger counterparts are, they are also less likely to be aware of it, a new study indicates.

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August 23, 2011

Many experts agree that, with a doctor’s approval, seniors can still enjoy alcohol in moderation. Research has discovered that alcohol can impact older adults more quickly, though. Senior care professionals encourage older adults to continually assess their habits and adapt them as needed.

Q: As a 72-year-old healthy couple, my husband and I still occasionally enjoy a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. Sometimes I feel this is going to my head faster than it used to. Is that just my imagination? My husband and I like to stay active and socialize with other seniors, and we know we don’t need alcohol to do that. Is it time to give it up? I’m not sure what we would do without this particular social circle.

Not only may older adults be more affected by a couple of glasses of wine than their younger counterparts are, they are also less likely to be aware of it, a new study indicates. The findings suggest that older adults should be particularly careful about driving after social drinking.

“How many times have you asked someone, ‘Are you OK to drive?’” said senior researcher Sara Jo Nixon, Ph.D., of the University of Florida Gainesville. The problem, according to Nixon, is that there is a “disassociation” between people’s perceptions of their abilities after a few drinks and their actual capabilities.

For a study, researchers recruited 42 adults between the ages of 50 and 74, and 26 adults ages 25 to 35. Participants were randomly assigned to drink either a moderate amount of alcohol or a nonalcoholic “placebo” beverage. Each person in the alcohol group was given enough to achieve the same blood alcohol level.

In general, the researchers found, older adults in the alcohol group performed more poorly on the first test than their younger counterparts did -- an age gap not seen in the placebo group. Yet, when asked how they subjectively felt, the older drinkers thought they were less impaired.

The extra effects of alcohol on seniors are subtle, Nixon pointed out, but could become important behind the wheel of a car. Her advice to older social drinkers: “Sit around for a while and let the alcohol metabolize. Don't drink and run -- stay and have dessert.”

It’s best to check with your doctor, but it sounds like a glass of wine in moderation shouldn’t hurt. Since you enjoy socializing with seniors so much, have you thought about putting your skills -- minus the alcohol -- to work as companions for lonely older adults. Home Instead Senior Care® trains those who love seniors, including other older adults, in providing companionship services to those who could use an extra boost or who need a friend.

For more information about the study, visit http://www.news-medical.net/news/2009/03/05/46595.aspx.

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http://www.caregiverstress.com/fitness-nutrition/effects-of-alcohol/