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A Definitive Answer on Alcohol and Aging

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In the spirit of total transparency, the definitive answer to this question is still a work in progress.  There is a new study that will soon be hitting the press…but it is funded in no small part by companies who produce alcoholic beverages.   There have been some studies lately that suggest moderate drinking can enhance one’s health and even contribute to a longer life.  Well, moderate intake can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia.  And a study last month showed a relationship between moderate alcohol intake and longer life spans, but research also has shown modest coffee consumption, staying active and socially engaged and keeping a healthy weight are important.  Although no one has scientifically given us the definitive answer, the truth may be somewhere within the range of moderation in all things can benefit one’s health.

Based on a review of the research, let me offer some general observations.  Moderate alcohol consumption can be healthful, but measure what someone says is their “moderate” dose.  Physicians generally double what a person claims as their consumption when they evaluate their consumption.  Another factor is history.  Have the moderate consumers always been moderate consumers, or do they have a history of what some euphemistically refer to as “hard living?” Some researchers point to some elements in, for instance red wine, that are healthful.  So, is the older individual always drinking what is the healthful alcohol?

Set aside all talk about moderation.  If an older individual drinks in excess, the health benefits of that red wine are not going to help.  Let me offer what one should consider…not necessarily what one should do:

  1. Since our bodies process liquor differently as we get older, reconsider what may have been a healthful or safe amount of consumption in younger years.
  2. Carefully assess what medications are going to be mixing with the alcohol…does the alcohol dilute the health effect, amplify the side effects – allergy and sleeping meds are a real issue?
  3. Alcohol is not a one and done; it can have a cumulative negative effect on the immune system, the brain, heart, bones, digestive system and the senses.
  4. Alcohol makes a person sleepy, but it is a real sleep disrupter; “night caps” are a myth.
  5. Alcohol can create socially-disturbing situations; no one ever regretted saying something because they drank too little.

By all means, wait for the next study.  Note who has sponsored it, who the study subjects were and how long term they studied the subjects.  And take note of how healthy the subjects were so that you can be as fit on all dimensions in order to consider if you want to be moderate on others.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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