Alcoholism among the elderly makes people to live in social isolation. Addicted elderly people make their family members to go through a lot of trouble in trying to protect them. They also try to hide their drinking problems leading to self-isolation. This situation results in social, medical and financial issues. In effect, they find it hard to admit that they have a problem to avoid guilt and shame. This problem is a silent epidemic as it places a large burden on the health care system: more elderly people are hospitalized due to alcohol related diseases and injuries than with heart attack and high blood pressure. This paper will explore the social problems caused by alcohol among the elderly. It will focus on the size of the problem, current changing drinking patterns, reasons for drinking, consequences, diagnosis of the problem and services to the elderly. Lastly, it will discuss possible treatments available and how the elderly can be helped to avoid drinking.
Alcohol consumption tends to increase with age significantly and this exposes the elderly to the problems of alcohol misuse. The problems associated with alcohol use among the elderly can be a disease, public health issue or integration. Alcoholism among the elderly has been denied, hidden and unrecognized for ages leading to its prevalence. Aging slows down the metabolic rate of the body and this is a warning sign for the elderly to slow down the consumption of alcohol (NIA, 2012). The use of alcohol among the elderly threatens the quality of their lives as they continually suffer from emotional, psychological and physical damages. The other effects of alcohol that the elderly are exposed to as a form of mistreatment encompass social isolation, threats, neglect, increased debt, self-neglect, ridicule, financial exploitation and even physical abuse.
Symptoms of alcohol abuse are usually disguised as being normal aging processes thus making medical staff engaged in treatment without understanding the disease. It exposes them to dementia, depression, stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure. In old age, the liver becomes inefficient in breaking down alcohol resulting in digestion problems; loss of body heat contributes to hypothermia. The pharmacological changes associated with alcohol abuse increase the risk of health effects, hence effective methods should be used by family physicians to identify alcohol-related problems among the elderly (Fox, Wilson & Blanchard, 2011).
The issues related to alcohol abuse among the elderly are characterized by social isolation, recurrent episodes of memory loss and marked changes in behavior of individuals. The economic issues related to alcohol includes the cost of health services offered to the elderly for the treatment of alcohol related diseases and to the criminal justice system for dealing with crimes and disorder related to alcohol (Culberson, 2006b). Addicted elderly people show higher levels of depression and psychological distress such as fear, post-traumatic stress syndrome and anxiety exposing them to lesser social support. Over-consumption of alcohol leads to higher levels of passivity, guilt feelings, alienation and shame as well as lower levels of mastery and perceived self-efficacy. Further, increased cases of mortality arise from alcohol abuse by the elderly as it exposes them to various threats (Atkinson, et al, 2002). The elderly have brittle bones and their healing process is slow; in case they sustain injuries while drinking, it can be detrimental due to permanent damage to injured bones, pain, malnutrition, weight loss, head injuries and even dental problems.
The elderly are fond of taking more alcohol than the young generation due to their lesser commitments exposing them to frequent falls and cognitive impairments. The most affected groups are those with low socioeconomic status. The early onset drinking increases the risk to be estranged from family. The amount of alcohol consumed by an individual impact their life leading to social problems. The problems of memory loss and cognitive problems are common among the elderly. The elderly suffer from mobility issues attributed either to sustained physical injury at a certain point in their life, growing older or due to side effects of some medication. Consumption of alcohol at this stage of life can be detrimental since alcohol induces loss of balance and coordination making it more dangerous for them. The case can be fatal if an elderly falls due to lack of mobility and balance (Berks & McCormick, 2008). Alcohol has negative effects on people taking medication and the elderly are often prone to facing medical complications. The effect depends on how the medication is absorbed into the body; in some cases, certain medication reacting with alcohol may cause memory loss and unconsciousness or even lead to alcohol poisoning.
Programs have been tailored to help the elderly come out of their problem. A staff is offered gerontology training and supposed to reach out to their clients through home visits so as to offer them treatment and harm reduction service together with effective alcohol abstinence-oriented approaches. In addition, taxes on alcohol have been increased regularly so as to stop drinking of alcohol. However, this approach has not been successful since despite the prices of alcohol was going up, people, particularly the elderly, have continually used alcohol more thus calling for other effective measures (Atkinson, et al, 2002). These programs will be effective, if alcohol abuse is detected in the early stages so that its psychological, physical and emotional impacts can be addressed properly. Psychological distress can be alleviated with help of social support systems. This calls for proper management of alcohol withdrawal and alcohol treatment programs with specific focus on elderly persons.
Treatment of alcohol addiction among the elderly is crucial. The negative stigma perception of the elderly makes treatment programs to be ineffective. Family members should be taught about consequences of alcohol abuse among the elderly. Engaging the elderly into alcohol rehabilitation programs introduces them to new social setting of people who share the same problem and thus can lead to succeed in doing away with the issue. Very often, the elderly do not admit that they have a problem making treatment programs ineffective (Culberson, 2006b). The programs for treatment include day treatment, in-patient programs, out-patient therapy and community based groups and nursing home placements (Berks & McCormick, 2008). The counseling service provided by professionals should be embraced as this will improve the quality of life, restore hope and confidence to the elderly. The current approaches that are being employed include clinical management to aid in alcohol withdrawal. However, this is affected by cases of delirium, falls and dependency leading to longer hospitalization during the process of detoxification of alcohol.
New programs that enable the elderly to learn the ways in which they can cope without alcohol, for instance, teaching them how to identify and deal with situations and feelings that trigger the urge to drink should be adopted. Measures should be taken to curb this problem as alcohol abuse has become a big health problem among the elderly. The benefits accrued from the treatment of alcohol problems are enormous; more independence, improved cognition, new hobbies and better social connection are the best treatment approaches. The future generation will be in big trouble if the problem of alcoholism among the elderly cannot be handled properly (Fox, Wilson & Blanchard, 2011). The elders deserve special attention on health and social issues as they are exposed to various risks of harm. Treatment should be appropriate to the particular needs of the elderly. Social workers should be effectively trained on health issues affecting the elderly and salvaging them from alcohol problems.
Families, friends and health care professionals should not overlook elderly peoples’ drinking habits. Some medicines and drugs can be fatal when mixed with alcohol and most elderly people take medicine daily. Certain cases of cancer, immune system disorders, liver cirrhosis and brain damage occur in older people who addict alcohol. Pharmacologic management of alcohol withdrawal and concomitant treatment are used though they are not very effective. Health care providers should rub-off the thought that the elderly cannot be treated since they have lost everything that made them happy as this makes the treatment programs to be ineffective.
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