Alaska editorial: Seniors should exercise caution when drinking

Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

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It can sneak up on a person, a problem with alcohol. People who abuse alcohol aren't all kids sneaking illegal hootch or a bum sipping out of a bottle "hidden" in a brown paper bag.

This is Alcohol Awareness Month.

People of all ages, economic status and professions can have alcohol problems, and a lot of Alaskans do. It's a topic worth considering.

Of particular interest in Ketchikan, with its milder climate attracting or retaining senior citizens, is how alcohol can affect the elderly.

For instance, the effect of alcohol on a person can change as he or she ages. The National Institute on Aging says people become more sensitive to alcohol the older they get. Thus, a person who has had a glass or two of wine without ill effect earlier in life might be affected more strongly by those two glasses at age 70. It can happen without the person's even realizing it.

The elderly often take medications that can react badly with alcohol. In addition, drinking can make people forgetful and confused, which the NIA says can be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer's disease. Or, alcohol can cover up symptoms that ought to be noticed.

And, the older we get, the sad fact is that more people we know and love die. When actress Bette Davis said old age isn't for sissies, she probably was talking about the double whammy of the decline in physical condition and the loss of one's contemporaries and support groups.

A person who used to be able to talk things out with her beloved might find herself widowed, and for the first time in years, taking a drink for comfort. The NIA says, "Depression in older adults often goes along with alcohol misuse. At first, a drink seems to bring relief from stressful situations. Later on, drinking can start to cause trouble."

Lest we see problems everywhere, we should note, as the experts do, that not everyone who drinks regularly has a drinking problem (and not everyone with a drinking problem drinks every day).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that if you drink, and if you are over 65, you have no more than one drink a day (and no, that doesn't mean skipping six days and having seven drinks on the seventh).

The first step in dealing with any problem is recognizing that there is one.

This month, let's be aware of the dangers of alcohol. More than the elderly are at risk, of course, and Alaska has large substance abuse levels, including alcohol abuse. The abuse and misuse of alcohol has caused much heartache in our state.

Let's take the first step by taking a look at alcohol and the role it plays in our lives.

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