April is Alcohol Awareness Month and while the focus naturally goes to teens and youth, especially with proms and graduations just weeks away, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urges a focus on other vulnerable populations, among them, older Americans. Estimating the magnitude of this “hidden population” is difficult, although some sources suggest the number could be as high as two million. Some health care professionals suggest that between 10% and 15% of elder health problems may be related to alcoholism.
Elder care experts point to loneliness as one of the big factors driving older populations to excess alcohol use. For some, alcohol represents a way to cope with poor health, financial changes, and fewer social opportunities. In some cases, families confuse symptoms of excess alcohol use with other signs of aging or effects of medications, such as forgetfulness, insomnia, anxiety, and loss of interest in life and socializing. Alcoholic dementia is yet another concern for some elders.
Alcoholism among seniors often goes unreported, in spite of the growth of incidences. Women are more likely than men to begin drinking heavily later in life. More than one-third of people over 65 drinks alcohol and it is estimated that 10% abuse it. As Boomers age and bring well-established habits along with them, there is concern among public health professionals that problems with alcohol among older populations will grow, perhaps becoming an epidemic. Betty Ford became a high profile elder identified late in life for abusing alcohol and drugs by her children. Her successful treatment led to the founding of the Betty Ford Clinic which reserves half its space for treating women with chemical abuse.
Axis One Center for Drug and Alcohol in metro Denver specializes in the treatment of adults and elders. The metro Denver institution, Seniors’ Resource Center, offers an array of problems, including mental health outreach services, "Senior Reach," that identifies older adults who may need emotional or physical support.
Local Denver physicians, Nancy Hooyman, MD and Thomas Green, MD specialize in geriatric medicine. Consult a more complete listing of geriatric physicians.
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