Alcohol and Aging

ALCOHOL FACTS

  • Thirty seconds after the first sip, alcohol is already slowing impulse transmission in the brain.
  • Alcohol causes a person to fall asleep faster, but when it wears off during the night it causes restlessness and wakefulness.
  • Alcohol may cause dehydration, the symptoms of which are the classic “hangover” - fatigue, nausea, headache, muscle aches and irritability.
  • With aging, the body processes alcohol more slowly; therefore, a smaller amount has a greater effect on the brain.
  • Alcohol increases the risk of falls and accidents.
  • Alcohol can interact with medication and can change the effectiveness or lead to side effects. For example, taking aspirin and drinking alcohol increases the risk of a stomach bleed.

ALCOHOL’S EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN

Short-term

  • Difficulty walking
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow reaction times
  • Poor judgement
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Impaired memory, increasing the risk of drinking more because one forgets how much has already been consumed
  • Blackouts

Long-term

  • These effects are associated with heavy drinking, defined as 15+ drinks per week for a male and 8+ drinks per week for a female:
    • Memory decline that can be permanent and debilitating
    • Shrinkage of brain tissue may show on a CT of the head or MRI of the brain

QUANTITIES OF ALCOHOL

  • If approved by your provider, a male should have no more than TWO drinks per day and a female ONE drink per day. A drink is defined as:
    • 12 oz beer
    • 5 oz wine
    • 1.5oz 80-proof liquor
  • As a person ages, it is important to include 2-3 days per week in which no alcohol is
    consumed.

TIPS TO REDUCE ALCOHOL INTAKE

  • Remove alcohol from the home.
  • Eat food when drinking and sip the drink slowly.
  • Avoid people and places that trigger excess drinking.
  • Limit alcohol to special occasions.
  • Water down drinks or replace alcohol with a “mocktail” made with juice and seltzer.
  • Drink alcohol-free beer or wine, available at the local state store or online.
  • Plan to arrive for a dinner engagement just in time to avoid pre-meal drinks and leave after dessert before others resume drinking.
  • Choose alcohol-free activities to do with friends.

More on Aging and Brain Health

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Alcohol and Aging

Alcohol impacts the brain differently as we age

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Hydration

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Vitamin B12

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Vitamin D

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Mediterranean Diet

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Achieving Goals and Establishing Healthy Habits

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Strategies for Brain Health

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Sleep Hygiene

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