The growing issue of alcoholism and the elderly
By Patricia Grace
Aging with Grace
It seems that alcohol abuse among older adults is something few wish to talk about, and it's a problem for which even fewer seek treatment. Too often, family members are ashamed about the problem and choose not to confront it head on.
Older adults often drink unhealthy amounts of alcohol in response to stress or depression, developing patterns of drinking later in life. Elderly men who live alone are more prone to alcohol abuse than women, and those with higher educational statuses have been associated with excessive alcohol consumption when they are older.
While overall there may be less drinking among the elderly, there appears to be a hidden alcohol problem for this group that is not easily identified with traditional screening. Alcoholism is often mistaken for other conditions associated with the aging and may go undiagnosed and or untreated. Difficulty in diagnosing this population has contributed to underestimations of this often hidden social problem.
Traditional alcohol screening tools such as the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test measure the prevalence of social, legal, and job-related problems. However, this type of screening is mostly inappropriate for the elderly, who are more likely to be retired, living alone and no longer driving.
The consequence of alcohol abuse in the elderly has the potential to create an enormous financial burden for Medicare, Medicaid and Veteran pension programs. Therefore, it is imperative that both health care providers and policy makers understand the need for better screening and treatment, especially in light of the sheer number of baby boomers entering old age. To compound the problem, this generation has higher rates of substance abuse, more than any previous generation.